Victim Blaming And My Dear Mother-in-law

“I don’t understand these made up names, like LaWanda or D’Quisha. You’re not helping yourself out. When they send a resume or apply for a job, people aren’t going to take them seriously.”

Racism is at its most dangerous when it is couched in everyday actions, familiar statements and sentiments, and seemingly sensible statements. This is how it is passed along, how it becomes normalized. The above quote – paraphrased, as it was a while ago and I don’t recall the exact wording – comes from my mother-in-law. If pressed, I’m sure she would rationalize it with a perfectly valid explanation in her mind as to how it’s not racist, possibly twisting it into being helpful advice. (Aside: she can rationalize anything. An. Y. Thing.)

It struck a chord with me because it is pure victim blaming. She’s putting the burden of avoiding being a victim of racism squarely on the victims. “Don’t use those names if you don’t want to be judged by them.” It’s not far off from saying that women shouldn’t dress a certain way if they don’t want to be harassed or worse. But there’s no way she’d see it that way, sadly. The whole “made up names” idea is another thing. As opposed to what – those naturally forming names? All names are made up. What she really means is names we don’t use in white American culture (if that’s even a thing).

The difficult thing is that my wife and I just had a baby girl. My wife technically had her, all credit due, but I did hold a leg and offer words of encouragement. They both did great, but that’s another story. And of course my mother-in-law, or Babcia as grandma’s are called in Polish, has a right to get to know her granddaughter. So she’ll be around, but at the first sign of her spewing latent racist garbage there’s going to have to be a serious reassessment of the state of affairs.

She goes to church at least once a week, loves her family, and sees herself as a genuinely good and caring person. And in some ways she is right. And that’s one of the hard truths of life, that there are no pure heroes or villains. There are, however, subtle undercurrents that we must be aware of, lest we be doomed to repeat ourselves. I want better, not just for my baby daughter, but for her the entire generation. The status quo is unsustainable.

Strange Daze

 

brain

“Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean…”

I’m just sitting there with a cup my 2nd cup of morning afternoon-ish coffee, and I start singing this ad jingle. It just pops into my head, I’m not sure why or from which dark, cerebral crevasse of my brain. But it dawns on me that I’m full of stuff like this; full of product ads, slogans, jingles. It’s like the plastic garbage that floats adrift in our oceans, only it’s my head and the garbage is of a non-physical kind. Now and then it washes ashore and comes to mind.

I know, from that day in college when I was paying attention, that there’s no finite limit to the amount of things we can store as memories, so it’s not pushing anything else out of there. There’s no problem in that sense. Maybe the oceanic plastic metaphor isn’t the best; I can’t think of an equivalent to the seagull with a 6 pack ring around its neck, so to speak. But it’s still disturbing on some level, how we’ve bombarded ourselves and retain to some degree the residue of our commercialism lifestyle. And it’s not just something ephemeral like memory. Supposedly our bodies are riddled with preservatives from eating so much processed food that even postmortem decay is slowed to an unnatural rate. So maybe there is some way that prolonged exposure to marketing messages changes how we think too.

It’s just one of the many ways which our modern way of life in 2016 is so different from the vast majority of human history. Things have gotten pretty fucking bizarre. We didn’t evolve under these conditions; “today” is an aberration. I wonder what would happen if you plucked your average 1776 New York citizen and dropped them into present day Times Square. I think they’d just explode. I mean an actual explosion, with flames and people diving in slow motion towards the camera. We might need Mr. Clean after all.