Racists, and the Consequences They Never Expected

Racists, and the Consequences They Never Expected July 31, 2018

Lately, Artor brought up a racist Southern dude who may have lost his business thanks to a racist outburst. The piece dovetails very nicely into something we already had on the schedule, too! So today, I want to show you why this racist did what he did. Then I want to show you why he won’t learn a thing from the chastening he’s received.

Black Lives Matter, student march in Minnesota, 2015. (Fibonacci Blue, CC.)

Another Sign of the Times.

As regressive people start feeling more and more threatened and “left behind” by popular culture, they’re starting to act out in predictably shocking ways. One very obvious example of this situation comes to us courtesy of Pharyngula.

Last week Charles Lovett, a person of color (POC), experienced a road rage confrontation with another driver who’d apparently crossed the double white lines on the road. (Laws typically prohibit cars from crossing those lines.) He captured a few minutes of their exchange on camera.

The road-raging driver, later identified as Jeffrey Whitman, was a white dude driving a van that was clearly marked with his company’s name and phone number. (The company name leads me to think Whitman is a fundagelical Christian! It’s called Uriah Heating and Cooling. I can’t find any churches, landmarks, or nearby towns called that. But Uriah, in the Bible, was the original husband of Bathsheba before King David had him killed to take his wife. Whitman owns the company, so presumably he chose the name. Whitman’s over-the-top racism, self-pity, entitlement, and total lack of empathy certainly adds to my suspicions.)

Enraged, Jeffrey Whitman screamed racist epithets at the other driver, following him for miles on the road all the way to his home to abuse him a little more before smugly driving away.

I’m sure it was a terrifying and threatening confrontation from Charles Lovett’s point of view. I’m even more sure that Whitman never expected anything to come of his actions that evening.

This behavior is no different from catcalling. Abusers like Whitman act from a position of perceived power and dominance. They choose their victims carefully, fully expecting them to endure the abuse without fighting back in any meaningful way.

Until lately.

Backlash.

But the backlash against Whitman was swift–and fierce. As Columbus Dispatch puts it,

The retaliation was immediate. If Whitman felt entitled to follow, confront and demean a stranger from the seat of his marked company van, thousands of strangers felt obliged to punish him for it.

Twitter accounts raised up the shocking video and called for action, which came in powerful waves. Whitman’s Yelp rating plunged to 1 star. He lost his accreditation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). As a consequence, he’s pretty sure by now that he’s going to have to close up shop.

Whitman told Columbus Dispatch in a voicemail,

I’m out of business, I’m completely out, I’m done, I’ll never work in Columbus again. This has completely and thoroughly ruined my life.

Wait, what?

What was that last bit?

Yes, he’s talking about the backlash, not his own behavior.

Poor Widdle Racist Scumbag!

Oh yes. Not only has Whitman refused to apologize to the victim of his racist ranting and threatening behavior, not only has he refused to see his behavior as racist at all, he’s throwing a pity party for himself. Not only does he feel self-pity, he’s angry at the backlash against him. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the victim here, not the guy he drove for miles to abuse and call racist names.

Whitman further refers to his behavior as “an awful mistake” that has “ruined my life and it’s ruined my family’s life.” A mistake. He thinks that following a guy for two miles while screaming racist epithets at him is just a mistake–you know, like forgetting the date. It’s sure not a character flaw of the worst order, in his eyes. He told NBC4i.com that he is definitely not at fault here:

I don’t know if it makes it right or wrong all I can say is I grew up with it and not a big deal for me.

It doesn’t bother him, and so therefore it is not allowed to bother anybody else. Therefore, he should be allowed to do it whenever he sees fit without a single word of reprimand.

We’ve seen this mindset many, many times before in fundagelicalism.

The Unspeakable Tragedy of the Modern American Racist.

Jeffrey Whitman feels angry and upset that his business has taken a hit because of his behavior. The way he sees it, everything happening to him is the result of concerted efforts by meaniepies who “hate” him for no good reason. He wasn’t the hateful one that day on the freeway. The people reprimanding him are the truly hateful ones. As he told Columbus Dispatch,

I just don’t understand the intensity of the hate.

Yes, and I’m sure his victim could say much the same–but with far more justification. But Whitman is not capable of recognizing that his own behavior was hateful.

As far as he’s concerned, his victim is the one at fault here. See, he thinks Mr. Lovett committed some infraction of roadway politeness. In turn, he says he was “just trying to address the rudeness.” That’s simply how rudeness is always addressed, in his little world. Two eyes for one eye; two teeth for one tooth; a horrifically abusive, extended episode of racist insults and disproportionate aggression for an imagined slight on the road. In his world, people never resolve conflicts through patience and compassion, and certainly never through going the second mile or forgiving seventy times seven.

Incidentally, the word “just” he used up there also triggers my fundagelical-sensing whiskers, especially in this context. It’s such a wheedling, sniveling way to describe what was, fundamentally, an act of outrageous aggression he committed against someone he really thought he could get away with abusing.

He wasn’t “just” trying to do anything. He wanted to hurt someone, and that is exactly what he did.

If he’s truly chagrined about anything here, it’s that he got caught and punished for his abuse.

Exiting the Feedback Loop.

I’ve been talking lately about a metaphor involving foxes and henhouses. Here, too, this analogy applies. Jeffrey Whitman himself is the only person allowed to judge his personal behavior. Nobody else may do so, in his little world. Even when he seriously impacts others, he does not take into account anything they have to say.

Consequently, Whitman thinks that using racist epithets is A-okay in 2018. He thinks that because he “grew up with it.” In his environment, white people constantly used racist epithets against black people. And he grew up thinking that this was acceptable behavior for him to display as a white person.

It’s important to note that I’m white and not much younger than he is. Somehow, I figured out that such language and  behavior were absolutely unacceptable. Plenty of people even older than us know the same thing. I grew up all over the country, even in the Deep South and Texas, and I can tell you that racists–and white folks trying hard not to be racist–live everywhere.

No, he can’t blame anybody but himself. What he did is purely a consequence of his own hatreds, his own deep sense of entitlement, and his own complete lack of empathy for people his tribe has always considered enemies.

Hurting People Hurt Others.

Empathy is not just a human quality; even animals display it.1 But abusers have to lose their sense of empathy. Here’s part of how this process happens:

  • Tribalism. The group creates boundaries: “us” against “them.”
  • Dehumanization. Abusers stop seeing the group they’ve designated as enemies as real people.
  • Self-focus. They care mostly (or only) for themselves or their immediate group. Competent conjobs and hucksters within the scumbag’s tribe can easily stoke this self-focus into outright self-pity when a greater power (like popular culture or the law; never “Jesus!”) revokes the tribe’s permission to act out. (See also: r/RaisedByNarcissists and Issendai’s Down the Rabbit Hole.
  • The Chain of Pain. Issendai developed the idea that abuse is generational. Abuse victims often learn to protect themselves by becoming abusers themselves. Even if they want to do things differently, they’ve learned some extremely maladaptive ways of handling frustration and anger.
  • Entitlement. Abusive people think that an object or a style of behavior is their right to have or exercise, or that they innately deserve the power they are flexing. They act out when they are denied.

I bring this stuff up not as an excuse, but as an understanding. We see exactly those same elements in the worst forms of Christianity, too. Broken systems operate very similarly.

Regaining Empathy.

“You were a 16-year-old kid,” [Mr. Holmes] explained. “I knew you had been brainwashed. And I remember saying to you, ‘Chris how can you be filled with so much hate?'”

Johnny Holmes

Therapists can help these folks regain empathy, if they want to re-learn those behaviors and thought processes. It isn’t easy. The first step may well be teaching them how to put themselves in the shoes of those they’ve mistreated. A study from February looked at the use of virtual reality (VR) in successfully helping people start to rebuild empathy.

In similar fashion, bigoted people often start changing after familiarity and love challenge their prejudices.

Thanks to the concerted compassion of Johnny Holmes, onetime neo-Nazi teenager Christian Picciolini renounced his racism and helped found a group dedicated to helping other extremists out of hate groups.

Another neo-Nazi racist found her hatred of various groups crumbling after getting to know some POC after landing in prison. She ended up falling in love with a black woman. Eventually, she left the neo-Nazi community and began making amends for her past by helping others escape from racist ideologies.

“All the Time.”

Black people experience policing every day, even if it’s just a look or a gaze. What social media is doing is magnifying the elephant in the room in such a way as to reveal to white people the reality that black people experience all the time.

George Yancy, professor of philosophy

More and more often, we’re hearing about individual racists facing comeuppance for their behavior. And WOW, they do not like it. They clearly never expected any blowback.

Stone-cold bullies and domestic terrorists find their belligerence fading quickly, as Alexander Downing and Chris Cantwell both famously demonstrated last year after beating their chests (one of them literally) about their violent hatred of people of color.

But recently, consequences have also begun raining down upon more casual racists.

This summer, social-media activists began reporting on the common phenomenon of white people making 911 calls about black people just going about their day #WhileBlack.

#WhileBlack.

[Sarah] Braasch, who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, will one day seek employment. This will follow her wherever she goes. I find this fitting, a punishment well-deserved.

The Undefeated, May 15, 2018

These social-media efforts raised awareness in a potent way about something that’s been happening since forever. Suddenly, racists faced consequences for the outbursts they’d always been making.

And gang, that and more is all stuff that’s happened this summer.

“No One Has Time For This.”

If you’re a racist jackwagon and you feel the need to let people know you’re a racist jackwagon in the most public way possible, life is coming at you fast these days.

The GrioMay 19, 2018

Change doesn’t come easy. But it’s possible. The more people mix together socially and culturally, the easier it gets. Familiarity can ease those -isms that plague us.

That’s wonderful news for humanity, because it seems like every new generation gets better at mixing together. It’s not so wonderful news for people who embrace hatred.

Societal change can’t happen too soon. The needle hasn’t moved nearly enough on racism. Attitudes like Jeffrey Whitman’s, institutionalized and enshrined into social systems, hurt way too many people. When I hear stories about racists facing shame, facing consequences, it gives me hope–even as I recognize that Whitman himself sounds like he’s still too locked in self-pity and misdirected anger to change anytime soon.

The most dramatic and heartwarming stories of our species come from the fruits of empathy. Racism crystallizes the dead opposite of all of humanity’s best traits. As one critic of Jeffrey Whitman’s told him, “It is 2018. No one has time for this racist BS.”

And indeed, we don’t.

NEXT UP: Now we’re ready to launch into an examination of a totally exciting new push for evangelism from Christian leaders. See you next time!


Endnotes.

1 On 9/11, as my then-BF and I sat on our couch weeping and watching the towers fall, our resplendent dark-tabby cat Martycat worriedly wound himself around us, purring, patting us with his paws, and trying to console us. He was not a lap cat by any means. Indeed, he never sat in our laps again after that day. But that one day, it was enough. (Back to the post.)

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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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