Growing up I would often hear adults around me needlessly include racial identification in descriptions of their daily activities. I might hear someone say things like:
- "My car battery died and a very helpful black man gave me a jump start."
- "This very nice Japanese woman helped me pick up my groceries when they fell on the floor."
- "I was lost and these Mexican children showed me how to get back on the freeway."
If memory serves, the references only seemed to be included when the story was positive. Now, knowing the adults in question, I never got the sense that they meant the statements badly. They did not seem to be commenting out of surprise that a black man, a Japanese woman, or a Mexican child acted helpfully, that the behavior they witnessed represented some freak departure from racial/ethnic expectation/stereotype. Still, it seemed so odd to me. Why mention that additional irrelevant information at all? Was it a holdover from segregation or lack of interaction with people of different backgrounds and the novelty of the racial/ethnic element in the interaction demanded some mention? Was it just a natural tendency of humans to convey visual details when describing an event? Was it a subconscious attempt to reassure me that all people have the same capacity for goodness?
I went the other way, specifically avoiding the mention of that racial/ethnic/etc. information in a story unless absolutely vital to the story, and even then I might only vaguely hint at it. And that's probably worse. The adults around me may have been acting harmlessly and naturally but I was acting unnaturally and in that overthinking and awkwardness dwelling on or highlighting differences (at least within my own mind).
Reminds me of this story:
Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping, because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.
But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. Later in the day the younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. The older monk replied, "I only carried her across the river, but you have been carrying her all day."
I'm not sure quite what I do these days... I think and hope my non-mention of irrelevant racial/ethnic/etc. references is at least more natural now.
But, the other day I was saying something to my girlfriend like, "I will have to watch this on the big tv when we get home." And she pointed out that we only have one TV in the house (and I've not had more than one in 20 years) and that despite that I always bafflingly call it the "big tv". And it struck me as perhaps being quite a bit like what the adults around me might have been doing years ago. I have apparently never gotten past the novelty of this TV's size*, just as interacting with a more diverse body of people remained a novelty demanding mention.
* The TV is ~50" inches, pretty average by today's standards but vastly larger than the TVs of my youth and early adulthood
Every year it seems like I receive an email forward from irate Christians wanting to remind me about how Christmas is being co-opted by the gay, feminist, atheist, capitalist agenda who are hell bent on taking the Christ out of Christmas... This year I couldn't help but respond to the most recent forwarder, my dad, who had attached his own screed. This is my response.
You poor, poor American Christians. How oppressed you are with your undefeated record of electing 44 Christian Presidents (unless of course you conveniently think Obama is Muslim), your vast 89% majority in Congress, your significant 77% majority of the US population. Oh, but of course maybe those aren't "true" Christians. Funny, they look pretty good on paper with 61% of the population believing that evolution is a lie, and 45% of the population believing the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
But you go on with your hypocritical lives, your convenient selective memory of the Old Testament and the New. Keep quoting the Old Testament to stop the queers from their equality, your marvelous quotes about slavery kept those uppity Negroes in chains for a few hundred extra years. And don't worry, I'm an atheist so I don't have the mandate to stone you for working on the Sabbath, for eating shellfish, getting tattoos, or association with menstruating women. And I'll try to resist quoting Matthew 5:17-20 and all that stuff about, "Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished." I'm just an amoral, compassless heathen apparently bent on doing all I can to make some tasty s'mores while I watch the world burn.
Oh, and as for Jesus Christ ruling forever, good luck with that. Hope He has a bit more staying power than the Sumerian religion, the Babylonian religion, the Assyrian religion, the Egyption religion, the Greek religion, the Roman/Mithra relition, the Germanic/Norse religion, the Maya religion, and all the others that have faded into history. All those religions sure seemed convinced they were the real deal, and I'm sure all their followers sure were pretty miffed when you people started taking the Zeus out of Zeusmas, the Isis out of Ismas, etc. So I get it, you are right to be outraged. Shout "Merry Christmas" or "I love Jesus" at whoever you want as loud as you want, nobody will punch you in the mouth like they would me if I yelled out "Merry Jesus is a Myth Day". But you're right, you're the oppressed, distressed, offended people here. I keep forgetting that.
It's a funny thing, outraged Christians sure sound a lot like outraged white males, probably because so many of them are. A few thousand years of ideological domination and the subjugation of others just never feels like enough, does it? Even when you accept the notion that equality is probably inevitable you sure do grouse about the thought that women, blacks, gays, foreigners might temporarily get 'unfair' educational, career, financial advantage. How dare the pendulum swing even a tenth of a degree in their favor, what an affront to a system you'd so carefully rigged over centuries with all your social and religious mores.
Funny thing is, I'm actually all for you loving your Lord. I want you to find spiritual sustenance wherever you may. I am not the least bit offended nor do I shy away from your Merry Christmases. There is much to respect about the modern interpretation of Christ, certainly a lot more than the interpretation which brought us inquisitions, crusades, the burning of misidentified witches, and whatever horrors future interpretations may bring. It just irks me when you whine about your lot, at the notion that others might dare for a few moments here or there to be as loud and as obnoxious as you felt quite comfortable being during various parts of your continued Western World domination.
Be gracious winners, not whiners. Your majority rule hasn't ended yet. Try to enjoy your declining years, it sounds like you are the ones confusing a trip to a big box department store with a trip to a church. I read nothing about the exchange of big screen flat panel TVs in the New Testament. I can't imagine mixing up the joy at my savior's birth with the joy of unwrapping a toxic toy made by children in China. If you expect God to be found in Best Buy or City Hall you're bound to be increasingly disappointed, try visiting your perpetually-renewing local house of worship instead. All public traditions get co-opted, by non-believers, by capitalists, by the ignorant, by people who simply see a good birthday party and want to attend without giving a damn whose birthday it is. I didn't turn your Christmas into a business proposition, that was you believing folk who made a religious celebration commercial, who took to exchanging increasingly expensive items as a proxy for religious passion.
This atheist wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, in the truest sense of it. Enjoy Christ, love Christ, celebrate Christ this December 25th. And quit your bitching about people at the local mall or city hall or school awkwardly trying to make room for others at your table of largess. But, do let me know if any of those folk wander into your church and try to make your pastor take the Christ out of Christmas, that's when you'll have my full support.
> On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:40 PM, My Dad<*********@msn.com> wrote:
> Powerful, alarming,sad,sobering, all-too-true message. In response, I AM thinking of, and invoking a message of:
> Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father...the Prince of Peace...and He shall
> reign forever and ever...and the Kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of OUR GOD AND
> OF HIS CHRIST, AND HE SHALL RULE FOREVER AND EVER....AMEN...AAAAMMMENNN...AND...AMEN!!!
> PEACE, Indeed!Thank you...(I am sending this to many)
> From: Somebody
> Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:46:53 -0500
> Subject: Fwd: Fw: Your First Christmas card
> To: Lots of people
> MERRY CHRISTMAS
> YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
> Cleverly done!!!
> Twas the month before Christmas
> When all through our land,
> Not a Christian was praying
> Nor taking a stand.
> Why the PC Police had taken away
> The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
> The children were told by their schools not to sing
> About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
> It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
> December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
> Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
> Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
> CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
> Something was changing, something quite odd!
> Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
> In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
> As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
> At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
> At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
> You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
> Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
> Are words that were used to intimidate me.
> Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
> On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
> At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
> To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
> And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
> Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
> The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
> The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
> So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
> Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
> Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
> Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
> not Happy Holiday!
> Please, all Christians join together and
> wish everyone you meet
> MERRY CHRISTMAS!
> Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!
> If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.