Toxic Comments: Normalizing Atrocities, a Resistance Post

Bomb-Cool-iconHave you ever been in a public place minding your own business when a stranger makes a rather loud offensive statement?  They didn’t make a statement pertaining to you, but it was a sexist, prejudice, or propagandist statement.  It’s a statement so offensively toxic that it even offended you!

Words were on the tip of your tongue.  You wanted to tell them their rhetoric was hurtful, wrong, and disrespectful of those around them.  Yet, you didn’t say anything.  You think they had a right to voice their opinion.  Besides, if you confronted them, something bad could happen.  Then you have the worst thought of all:  It wasn’t your problem.

Guess what.  It was your problem.  Furthermore, if you’re an American in the age of 45, it’s most definitely our problem.

As it happens, I heard an educator (unrelated to my academic institution) talking at a Starbucks and she made a horribly disagreeable comment:  I make students stand for the Pledge since my husband fought in Vietnam for their right to say it.

I forced myself not to comment, and yes, it was the worst thing I could have possibly done.

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In the current climate of highly charged hateful rhetoric and actions, I’m learning from my inaction, and I encourage people to calmly and logically shut down ignorantly toxic comments.  Call them a gateway drug to homegrown terrorism (or for a man to stab their fellow countrymen and call it Patriotism).

~Continued after video~

While the educator’s comments aren’t hate speech per se, it’s still a dangerous comment specifically for pure ignorance, which happens to lead to dangerous nationalism, authoritarianism, indoctrination, and even brainwashing.

Paraphrasing from the above Huffington Post video, Americans let those comments slide, we are helping to normalize such thinking.  Kids who hear it will think that toxic perspective is fine, or normal, and we encourage those few of like, small-minds to voice the same opinions.

Here is why that educator’s comments are so disagreeable.

First, the part claiming her husband fought in the Vietnamese war so American students can say the Pledge of Allegiance is revisionist history and has absolutely no basis in fact.

France-Flag-iconThe Vietnamese War had nothing to do with American freedom nor the Pledge of Allegiance.  America entered the war to help the French retain control of their Indochina colony.  When the French lost control and Communists took over Northern Vietnam, the American government found the situation disagreeable and stayed to help Southern Vietnamese take back the North.

Second, anyone who claims they, or their spouse, fought for the American right to say the Pledge drank the crazy people Kool Aid.  Our government’s Enlightenment Era Creators in the American Revolution were those who truly fought for our freedom.  They fought for the colonists’ right to have an equal say in government as part of a living document that also includes instructions for two methods of revolting against those in power.  Not of the idiocy to say a simple Pledge.

Hypothetically, in some bizarre dimension the Vietnamese War had been about American freedom, that freedom would encompass a wide range of freedoms we enjoy in the real world.  They would include the freedom to choose to say or not to say the American Pledge of Allegiance.

As Americans, we take pride in our First Amendment:Paper-icon

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These days, Americans refer to the First Amendment as freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  In the 80s and 90s, I remember it was referred to as freedom of the press.

The original Thirteen Colonies were formed on the promise of religious freedom and a haven from political upheaval.  Basically, their own countries persecuted (i. e., imprisoned or penalized) them because of their beliefs either in religion or politics.

Even today, there are countries – a few more liberal than America – that still penalize people for criticizing their leaders.  Here are twelve of them:

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Lebanon
  3. Venezuela
  4. Poland
  5. Turkey
  6. Netherlands
  7. Cameroon
  8. Bahrain
  9. Kuwait
  10. Thailand
  11. Iran
  12. Indonesia

The American Constitution was written so all American citizens have governmental say without the threat of persecution, which is also covered in the First Amendment (…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances).

We have the right to protest peaceably.  If Americans wish to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance, they can without penalization.  Hell, even in the 20th Century, people burned the American flag at protests without legal repercussions.  Why?  Because that is also covered under the First Amendment.

When I substitute in a classroom, I don’t force the students to stand and recite the Pledge.  Any students who choose to sit, respects the rest of the class by staying quiet through the Pledge.  Those who choose to say the Pledge, respects the classmates who choose to sit – as in not shaming those who sit through the Pledge.

Personally, I stopped saying the Pledge because I disagree with the under God part, which wasn’t added until the 1950s as a convoluted way to combat the political concept of Communism.  (Anyone else confused by that?)  Plus, I don’t recite the Pledge as a protest against the current political stupidity in the White House and Congress.  Although, I still stand and face the flag out of respect for my family history.

(By the way, anyone else think it’s overkill to say the Pledge everyday in school?!  Why don’t we say it once at the beginning of the Academic year or each semester?).

Typically, I resume working after the Pledge and ignore the moment of silent reflection.  I think taking a moment to silently reflect – which is code for pray – is a waste of time when people should do that in the privacy of their own home before going to school or work.  In addition, the Pledge of Allegiance is a prayer since it incorporates under God and was originally written by a minister.

I’m not saying the misguided educator was a follower of the Far Right, but I’m going on the assumption based on her comment.  Aside from the confusion over the term freedom, the Far Right (who proclaim themselves Patriots) get a lot of things wrong.

The Far Right likes to take their Nationalism to the extreme.  Perhaps, they believe the Pledge was always recited by school children at least once everyday across the country dating all the way back to America winning independence from England.

bag-books-iconActually, the Pledge wasn’t a classroom ritual until 1892, and America didn’t have an official pledge until the first half of the 20th Century.

It was not until 1942 that Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance. One year later, in June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it. In fact,today only half of our fifty states have laws that encourage the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom!

Forcing children to say the Pledge in school is not Patriotic since it’s considered a form of authoritarianism in a country that’s supposed to be a Republic.  While forces are attempting to change the foundation of our government to an oligarchy and 45 treats his position as a dictatorship, I believe wholeheartedly that this country will always remain a republic, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

I wish I would have said something to that educator, yet I would have done more harm than good.  Unfortunately, I would have yelled at the woman instead of calmly explain to her the wrongness of her statement with logic.  Perhaps, it would have been a futile attempt.  At least, I would have demonstrated that there are Americans who won’t stand for a dictatorial revisionist history.

However, I’m mainly writing about this experience to encourage other fellow Americans with cooler heads to curb both hateful and blind nationalist propaganda.  The more we make these comments abnormal, the less we have to deal with open hate, Patriotic stabbings, and the fear of homegrown terrorists.

The Detriment of Labels

Announcement:  Read up on the author’s diabolical plots for world domination in the new What’s New? section located in the “Behind the Common Sense Curtain” located to the left.

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Newspaper-iconEarlier this week, I was at home in bed sick and it gave me a lot of time to kill.  There’s reading the daily news, journal articles, and watching tv.  It also gave me time to think about the paper I’ll be delivering at a conference in a few months.

The paper is a shortened version of my master thesis and in a way, deals with labels (a.k.a., stereotyping).  Watching and reading various forms of media reminded me of the pervasiveness of labels in our society.

Many Americans don’t identify as “American.”  They have to be of some national origin and American (i.e., African American, Asian American, Irish American, etc.).  Within all these labeled groups in our country are more labeled subgroups upon subgroups.

We aren’t just Americans like we aren’t just people.  In schools, the children are separated out.  As a substitute teacher, I can see how easy it is to give into the labels, look at a child, and label them delinquent, average, or smart.

Inversely, as a substitute teacher, I also know how misleading those labels are.  Last post I talked about a kid who was happy when I remembered him.  To my lasting shame, I admit that I labeled him at first sight.  Going off his attire, the way he walked, and talked, I thought of him as a delinquent.

Then we talked to each other and I got to know him.  I now know that my label was horribly wrong.  It’s a lesson I learn multiple times in the past, and a lesson I forget often:  People aren’t labels, they aren’t the total of what you see.

First impressions are often wrong.

Academically trained fiction writers and scholars of literature learn about two dimensional characters and three dimensional characters.

Two dimensional characters have no depth.  They’re side characters to help move the story along to its eventual conclusion.  Think of Stan Lee and his stereotypically funny cameos (i.e., the average mailman, the horny old guy, etc.).  In the case of two dimensional characters, what you see is what you get.

Three dimensional characters have depth.  They are main characters or supporting characters who are integral to the development of the main characters (e.g., friends).  A good three dimensional character has layers upon layers of depth.  A reader or a watcher has a hard time labeling that character, they’re just people who made bad choices or are victims of circumstance.  These characters are hard to label…when you get to know them.

I would like to say all humans are three dimensional yet I’d be wrong.  The dimension depends on the person and how they’ve allowed the world to affect them as they’ve grown from child to adult.

In my master thesis, I explain how society has a way of developing mass marketed personalities for people.  They’re labels each person gets as they go through life.  When they’re a child they might get the label of difficult or well behaved.  As teenagers, they’re either advanced or slow.  When reaching adulthood, there are several labels people pick up.

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If I paid attention to these labels, I’d be in jail, unintelligent with several kids fathered by several men.  Even as I overcame derogatory label after derogatory label, I still had people attempting to label me.  I’ve learned that people will always attempt to label others.  It’s an insidious lesson subtly learned from childhood.

There’s one story I love to tell teenagers who will listen.  I even included it in an article a student wrote on me in the school newspaper.  In my last year of graduate school, I finally knew what I wanted to do after graduation.  I wanted to take a break from learning and build up my resume with conferences and publications.

My graduate advisor didn’t think highly of me.  She wasn’t very encouraging.  I can just imagine the types of labels she placed on me.

When I told her my plans, she advised me that I shouldn’t aim too high when it came to my goals during my “resting” period.  She wanted me to try for small conferences that beg for presenters.  These conferences really don’t impress potential employers in the academic world.

When it came to publications, she told me don’t even try.  No one would publish anything by someone with only a Master’s Degree.  What she really meant was she thought my writing was so bad that no one would want to publish anything written by me.

My graduate advisor was a dull gem of a person.  Dull because she had no idea how to be an advisor.  A gem because her delusional ramblings foreseeing the horrifyingly fast death of my scholarly career is great fodder for the inspirational personal stories I tell teenagers.

I’ve been negatively labeled through my life by people who don’t care to actually know me.  Hopefully, stories of my triumphs against labeling inspire teenagers who are in similar situations.

The Socially Acceptable Secret: Bullying

Perhaps it’s because I work at a high school, but bullying isn’t far from my mind and I found it particularly prevalent today.

I had no interest in Pretty Little Liars.  Since Netflix has not updated the seasons to my favorite shows, all of which I’ve watched numerous times to the point of reciting each line from every episode by memory, I felt adventurous.  At the same time, I was reading a Salon.com article concerning a bullied gay teen who committed suicide in Oregon.

Pretty-Little-Liars-iconIn the Pilot episode of Pretty Little Liars, a stylishly troubled teen named Hanna lives in a posh home with her recently single mother.  She does something exceedingly stupid by shoplifting at a local mall and is arrested for it.  After mom bails her out of jail, the mom turns to Hanna and says, “Why would you shoplift?  I give you everything to keep you popular!”  (Roughly paraphrasing from memory.)

Around this time, I was reading the aforementioned article where Jaiden Bell joined cheerleading to make his dreams come true and gain social acceptance.  Not that Jaiden felt that joining cheerleading would gain him social acceptance.  He was incredibly passionate about cheerleading.  Jaiden felt he would somehow gain some social acceptance as a result of his passion.  It was a reasonable deduction.  In many towns, cheerleaders are still the pinnacle of high school royalty.

Unfortunately for Jaiden, his sexual orientation superseded his success at cheerleading.  He underestimated small town mentality and their notion of football symbolizing the summit of masculinity.

Hanna’s mom and the mentality of Jaiden’s small hometown reminded me how society protects – in some cases celebrates – the bullies and repeatedly victimizes people who are different.  When Hanna’s mom reminded her klepto daughter of her social wealth as a result of her material wealth, she was effectively saying that the mom turned Hanna into a packaged replica of society’s typical high school girl.  This was to keep Hanna from feeling the need to shoplift for social acceptance and to keep the family’s good name.  Otherwise, Hanna and her mother might be ostracized from high school and town society.  Ostracism, in social terms, is a euphemism for bullying.

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My Master Thesis concerned independent others in American minorities.  I analyzed the treatment of people who were different from the American minority group of which they belong in American literature.  The thesis demonized notions of community because of their penchant for ostracizing those who are different.

A professor in my thesis committee asked if I was being too harsh on community, if I couldn’t spare one kind sentence.  I came up with some lame line about the fear of writing a tangent.

What I thought was something completely different.  The professor that asked me to spare a kind word for community didn’t go through the type of hell I lived through.  At the hands of community, I was bullied.

I didn’t grow up in the ideal American family.  My parents divorced because my dad was a less than ideal man.  He was good at pretending yet, in reality, was highly lacking.

Raised by a single parent came with a social stigma I never understood.  I tried to make friends, but had a difficult time.  There were unspoken rules of fashion, accessories, and behavior that I didn’t learn.  The girls in grade school strove to be the perfect Barbie doll with all the trappings.  Since mom didn’t have the money for frivolities, in the eyes of those girls, I was lacking.  To compound the problem, I didn’t know how to act.  I didn’t know someone should not act as they are or say what they’re really thinking.  Everything seemed like a highly problematic song and dance that was too complicated for me.

I was lucky in Catholic grade school.  The boys and girls mostly ignored me unless they caught me looking at the jumpers on the second-hand wrack in the hallway.

It was worse in middle school.  In the middle of 7th grade, mom and I moved.  I went to public school and suddenly, I wasn’t ignored.

The first two weeks were wonderful.  I believed I made friends with the popular kids, sat at their table, and conversed with them.  One day, a very disturbed girl with sexual identity issues, stood on top of a table, pointed at me, and screamed that I was a lesbian in the middle of a packed lunchroom.  The lunchroom monitors did nothing, the teachers did nothing.  That was the beginning of absolute hell.

I was completely visible to the public.  In Catholic school, I thought being ignored was bad, but this was worse.  Labeled as a lesbian when I went to junior high was as bad as leprosy in the middle ages and committing murder at the same time.  Everyone stayed away from me and they scrutinized me under an unrelenting social microscope.

The kids made fun of my family situation and my clothes.  I wasn’t used to dressing in casual wear for school everyday hence I had no clue what clothes were socially acceptable and most of my clothes were men’s wear.  Men’s wear fit my frame better and were more comfortable than women’s wear.  I didn’t know that a girl wearing men’s clothes was a social taboo.  The more uncomfortable you were, the more fashionable.

There was more than pointing and laughing.

Ironically, English class was the worst.  There was a girl that made sure to sit one seat behind me.  She made sure that seat between us was empty, which was easy since no one wanted to sit behind me.  During class, she would prop the desk on the top part of my chair and proceed to shove the desk into the middle of my back.  I would have to stay that way, uncomfortable and sometimes in pain, for the entire class.  The teacher did nothing.

I didn’t want to tell my mom what was going on.  She had her own demons to battle, and I thought I had to battle mine on my own.  It wasn’t until I was caught plagiarizing my mom’s name on a report card that the school finally stepped in to help.  They placed me with a counselor I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but was better than nothing.

My situation didn’t get better until I entered high school.  The high school began a program where they brought in a social counselor, and no one seemed to care or remember me from that hellish middle school.

Though I was no longer bullied, the mental damage those kids unleashed would take years to fix.  In some ways, I’m still working on it.

A few times I thought about suicide.  It’s easy to fall into that train of thought while tortured on a daily basis and told repeatedly in varied ways how worthless you are.

community-users-iconThat’s what society does to different people.  First, community isolates those who are different.  They make sure that the different person has no one in their corner, or they don’t know how to ask for help.  Second, community wears down its victim.  It’s easy for the strongest person to cave under a daily wave of mental and physical abuse.  Last, after wearing away their victim’s defenses, community puts on a hollow show of sadness and sympathy when their victim finally commits suicide.

I’ve heard all the arguments while reading articles about kids who weren’t as fortunate as I.  Community idiots point the finger everywhere but themselves.  They blame the family situation, the victim’s low self-esteem, the victim’s weakness, etc.  What they don’t say is, We could have done something.

There are even those idiots that make arguments for bullying.  I’ve had people tell me that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it.  That bullying instills strength.  Perhaps they’re right, but we don’t know that for sure.  The personalities of people are molded by a combination of genetics and environment.  Half of my DNA was procured by incredibly strong people and I was raised by those incredibly strong people.  I would have been the same without bullying.