Thought experiment: How do you react when you witness bigotry?

ABC’s show “What Would You Do” staged an experiment. They had an actor dressed as a Muslim woman enter a convenience store and had the clerk, another actor, refuse to serve her. Then they talked to the customers in the store.

My hat is off to the gentleman close to the end.  While I’d like to think that I’d be among the people who would speak out, my fear is that I would be in the 22 who said nothing.

(Just a reminder that our friend Kate wields the Mallet of Loving Correction so please keep your comments respectful. If you have doubts, review Scalzi’s comment policy)

Edited to correct the name of the program

177 Comments on “Thought experiment: How do you react when you witness bigotry?”

  1. I commend those who stayed calm but still voiced their disgust (like the two young women and the older gentleman with a son in Iraq). I would probably have been of those who stormed out, with choice words, too. Yeah, I know, very mature, eh. (yes, I’m Canadian).

    I couldn’t help but notice the name of the establishment. I wonder if someone reminded the “racist clerk” it was called Little CZECH Bakery.

  2. I haven’t witnessed that sort of behavior when I’ve been out and about. Now I’m rather hoping I do…

  3. nkjemisin! I met you at RT in Columbus during a panel. I shook your hand (very enthusiastically…I was the tall blonde with spiky hair and a French accent) when you told me you had written The Hundred Thousand Kingdom. Go you!

    You’re not surprised by this? You’re not surprised so many stayed silent?

  4. I’d be interested in seeing this repeated with various ethnic groups subbed in for the Muslim woman. I wonder if the results would be the same or if there’s still an undercurrent of fear of Muslims despite what most people know intellectually (that they are overwhelmingly fine, normal people).

    My hope is that more people would stand up for the person being discriminated against. My fear is that various factors, from inherent racism to a desire to avoid confrontation, would lead most people not to stand up for people like her. I think I would object – but is that wishful thinking? Sigh…

  5. I can’t blame Muslims living in America for being afraid. Condensing the data from this poll, it’s even odds that, if a Muslim meets someone randomly on the street, that person will have a negative opinion of Islam as a whole.

  6. The urge to generalize is strong; our brains are wired to do so thereby helping us make quick decisions in survival situations. Therefore the urge to discriminate based on a generalized appearence is, IMHO, a primitive response to a perceived survival situation. Should that be used as an excuse for racist behavior? Of course not. But it does help me understand racist reactions. I don’t condone racism or agree with it and I believe higher brain function should allow thinking humans to override their hard-wired lizard brain and act humanely and responsibly. Unfortunately, higher brain function is not something I’ll rely on.

  7. The nice thing about this kind of experiment is that it can be a reminder for when you do witness this kind of thing in real life, to do what’s right.

    People going into the milgram experiment, blind, will likely fail to do what’s right.

    People who know of the milgram experiment, walking into a similar situation, are for-armed to think back and say “Oh yes, I need to remember to not let basic human nature get the best of me.”

  8. I’m not surprised that so many people stayed silent, either. As much as I hope not, I suspect that I’d have either been in this group – not because I want to be silent, but because I just wouldn’t have any idea *how* to respond. Or I’d have stormed out with some nasty but completely incoherent words, if I can judge from my attempt to confront a protester at an anti-same sex marriage rally I ran into a few years ago. Standing your ground and arguing clearly is not just courageous – it’s really, really difficult to do, even when you get past fear and the bystander effect.

  9. I feel angry. Later, I regret not saying something at the time, realizing I was just trying to avoid confrontation. Then I feel ashamed.

  10. I recall seeing something similar once. I was visiting a friend in a hospital, and while waiting to find out what floor his room was on, there were three people in front of me. An hispanic person, talking to the receptionist in spanish, and a white couple who I subconsciously labled as “redneck white trash” without even consciously looking at them. Turned out, I was right. As the hispanic person walked way, redneck boy went off on the (also hispanic) receptionist for speaking spanish in America. I informed him, in a calm way, he was an asshole, because that’s the sort of thing a man shouldn’t go through life without knowing about himself.

    “You think I’m an asshole because I think they should speak english?”

    “Yeah, that’s pretty much why I think you’re an asshole.”

    It didn’t get any more polite from there. After several attempts to justify his racism, and being told he was an asshole, he left. The receptionist, I gather, did a literal double take the first time I called him an asshole, and spent the rest of the time trying desperately to not smile. And failing.

    In sincerely hope that when she got home from work that day, she told her family all about it. In spanish.

  11. First,

    I wish liberals would get it through their heads: Islam is not a race anymore than Christianity is a race so being anti-muslim or being anti-Christian (or anti-Mormon) is not racism; it’s bigotry. If being anti-muslim or saying bad things about Islam is racism then being anti-christian or saying bad things about christianity is racism. And a lot of liberals have a lot of racism to answer for.


    It showed that a minority congratulated the man. For that they should be ashamed of themselves. But what about the ones who said nothing? Saying nothing isn’t racism. You don’t know what was going through their minds. Maybe it was fear of the man. Maybe it was just not caring. But to call it “racism” to do nothing is pretty disgusting and ABC should be ashamed of themselves for implying it.

  12. Nathalie @4,

    I remember you. :) I was wandering around, feeling a bit out of sorts at a romance convention, then suddenly I met someone who’d actually read (and liked!) my book. It made me feel a lot better, thanks. :)

    And sorry to be unclear; disgust and fury tend to make me terse. No, I’m not surprised that so many people stayed silent, or that so many were so open about their bigotry, or that only a few people spoke up. I’ve been on the receiving end of similar treatment a few times — it still happens to black people too, though thank God not as often as it used to — and there were always witnesses who said nothing. So of course I’m not surprised to see a Muslim woman being treated this way in the current climate. It’s probably happening all over the place, just not with a film crew handy in every instance.

    I couldn’t help empathizing with the actress, having to go through that again and again. I hope they paid her well.

  13. MVS@7: Unfortunately “higher” brain functions can be the source of the problem. I grew up in an area where the nearest thing we had to an ethnic minority were Catholics. People of color were in very short supply, but racism was well established. Very few people there could claim they’d had a bad experience with someone of a different ethnicity, but every one of them “knew” (usually third-hand) of someone who had. So the stories were passed around, disguised as worldly advice, to watch out for “them people.”

    To this day I worry that I may have some latent irrational bias just because I grew up hearing that stuff. At least when I’m arguing with myself over whether I dislike someone for the wrong reason, it drowns out the other voices.

  14. In that particular situation, I would have been the guy cussing and storming out making a sceen… However… This is somewhat difficult for me. While I don’t have a problem with Muslims or head scarves, I occasionally see a woman near where I live walking around in a burqa. I have issues with burqa. I’m extreamly uncomfortable if I can’t see someone when I’m talking to them. (Yes, I hate phones as well.) I would not want to serve someone wearing one. I would probably serve them anyway but would be very uncomfortable doing so. This has nothing to do with their religion. I really don’t care what god they pray to. I think this has partly to do with the association I have between the burqa and repressing women. In fact, seeing a woman wearing a burqa infuriates me. Not to the point I would do anything to the woman. Most of my anger is directed towards the people/society who either is forcing her or made her believe she needs to wear it.

    Does that make me a bad person?

  15. And your beautiful story has such a fitting, gorgeous cover.

    As someone mentioned above, I guess it’s more discrimination/bigotry than actual racism, but if it would have been a blonde muslim woman, I wonder what would have happened. Would folks have seen the pale face *before* the headscarf?

    It’s so sad to hear it’s still going on though, that a dark-skinned young woman would still encounter racism in a 2010 United States. Sad.

    There was another movie about Mexican workers being refused work (with the same very convincing actor behind the counter…poor guy will get beat up some day, eh).

    @ Goober. Ah man, that’s the stuff of “I should have said this and this” fantasies right there! :)

  16. Scorpius @12,

    Your clarification of terms is noted, and correct. But I have to wonder — what difference does it make? Is bigotry somehow more acceptable than racism, in your eyes? Really?

    Your second point fails to note that most English-speaking liberals who make statements against Christianity are themselves Christian, or formerly so, or if nothing else are at least knowledgeable about it given its ubiquitous presence in Western life. Informed critique =/= ignorant bullshit of the caliber spouted by most bigots about the targets of their hate and fear.

    I can’t address your third point (about it being OK to not speak up) because a red haze of abject fury is currently descending over my vision, sorry. But I’ll make a personal note to try not to get assaulted in any way around you — verbally or otherwise — since you’ll clearly stand there and equivocate about semantics rather than simply do. what’s. right.

  17. I have to say I am not a fan of manufacturing news, even in thought experiments like this one. I find my self reading into the motives behind those conducting the “experiment” and what is the point they are trying to make? We all know that there are intolerant people out there and its not really a question of what would we do when we see it, because that is going to vary widely and just because we did not act in a certain “PC” way does not mean we are racist.

  18. beowuff @ #15,

    You wouldn’t “do anything to” a woman wearing a burqua… you’d just refuse to serve her, if she walked into your business. You’d just treat her like a second-class citizen and not a human being worthy of basic respect… but you’re infuriated that she’s being repressed.

    By the burqua.


  19. “just because we did not act in a certain “PC” way does not mean we are racist”

    Maybe not, but it does make us cowards.

    And standing up to bullies is more than just some “PC” thing to do.

  20. and just because we did not act in a certain “PC” way does not mean we are racist

    When did “PC” become a euphemism for “trying not to be blatantly ignorant, bigoted and shameful”?

  21. First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

    Silence = approval.

  22. nkjemisin @ #20,

    I said I would be uncomfortable serving her, but would server her anyway. And I certainly wouldn’t say anything to her. It’s the burqa I hate, not the person under it. I recognize that being uncomfortable around people I can’t look in the face is a possible shortcoming of my own personality.

  23. Nathalie,

    This “news” story is all about PC and how people act is much more complicated than that. People are going to act very differently when they see some injustice being done but, most people are inclined not to get involved, does that make them cowards or bad people? Some people might not like the fact that this women is Muslim but I doubt many of the people who were silent dislike this women because she is Muslim or else they would probably voice some support for the male actor’s intolerance. Like one of the guys supporting the male actor said, he had not seen something like that done before, and he wanted to voice his support for what had been done, but even he did not openly come out and support the man while the women was being discriminated against. So the news story is offering you a false choice of either being a racist or hero.

  24. Paul @ 25,

    I agree with one of your points. The news story is offering the participants in the experiment a choice. Not a “false” choice — it’s a very real and simple one that all human beings have to make every day, many times a day: to act, or not to act. In this case failing to act means letting an injustice stand, while acting — speaking out on the woman’s behalf — means taking steps to stop that injustice. You can label this however you want: the hero or the bigot, the decent human being or the schmuck, the brave person or the coward. All that’s kind of hyperbole, IMO. The choice that it really comes down to is this: the person who says he’s not a bigot but fails to back those words up with action, or the person who actually isn’t a bigot and walks the walk.

    It’s kind of like Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, to bring this back to SF/F. Remember that one? A robot may not harm, or through omission of action allow to be harmed, a human being. Emphasis mine, because it shows that Asimov understood Dave’s point at #23 — that silence does indeed equal approval. The choice to do nothing is still a choice to allow harm to occur.

  25. Headline: Americans React Differently When Confronted With a Manufactured Injustice!

    Is not news, its a political stagecraft, because they control the characters, the subject, and the plot. Thus they control the message and are able to frame our perspective into seeing what they want us to see, just like the movies. Thus the false choice of “heroine” (there own words) or monster/silent monsters.

    I don’t like “manufacturing news” because it is not there job to tell us what to think, regardless of how good the message is. LA Times, use to advertise their paper as them thinking for us, and I find that slight humorous and offensive, because critical thought is not something we are encouraged to engage in.

  26. I am going to catch heat for what I am about to say. I acknowledge and welcome this.

    The store is private property. The clerk is under no obligation to serve ANYBODY, and can refuse service for ANY reason.

    That said, You are under no obligation to request service from him, either.

    The appropriate response is to walk out, optionally informing the clerk of why you are doing so, and that you will be informing as many people as possible of his actions. People like this don’t deserve your money.

  27. @Dave H: you make a good point… however I would argue that it is still a generalized response, albeit one that has been trained / ingrained. This is actually the most common way that racism (or bigotry) perpetuates itself.

  28. This “news” story is all about PC

    Paul, does this mean you have an answer to my question at @22?

    I am old enough to remember when “politically correct” was an eye-rolling term liberals used for other liberals – the frowny, X-Treme Progressive types who believed there was one (1) and only one (1) correct position on any issue, and there was no such thing as principled disagreement; if you did not toe the party line, you were at best misled and more likely a big bag of confused, prejudiced thinking.

    Now it apparently means “trying not to be blatantly ignorant, bigoted and shameful”, or possibly “anything somebody does that makes me uncomfortable because it makes me think, for a microsecond, that I’m not as open-minded and egalitarian as I’d like to think.”

    The irony, it burns.

  29. A friendly reminder — See the comment policy before offering your two cents please. Attacking will be deleted.

    As for Paul @19 – IMO, it’s really not a “PC” thing to do to stand up for a fellow human being despite the fact that you may or may not agree with their religions. It’s the right thing to do.

  30. Apologies for the double post, but I appear to have cross-posted.

    Marty @29: your comment is factually incorrect. In the United States, a store open to the public for business is not ‘private property’ such that the store may refuse to to refuse service for ANY reason. If you are familiar with American history, the term “lunch counter sit-ins” ought to be ringing a bell right about now.

    You may be attempting to argue that a store should have the moral right to refuse to serve anyone for any reason, but that’s not what you actually said.

    And on a practical level, you’re confusing the actions of a single clerk with store policy.

  31. nkjemisin,

    Its not the participants that this message is directed towards its the viewer, the choice being offered is offered to us, whether to see these people, as racists or heroes. And the reason I say it is a false choice is because this story manufactured, and they chose who to interview and who not too and the only peopled they showed us were the racist and the heroes. Thus the title of the program, “What would you do?” frames the question, and the answers are forced by the choices they show us, racist or hero? And in life there are more answers than just “A” and “B”. This ABC program is the manufacturing of a false dilemma.

  32. “You’d just treat her like a second-class citizen and not a human being worthy of basic respect…”

    Islam already treats them as second class citizens, and there are a multitude of groups out there, from Civil Rights to Woman’s Rights to Human Rights that have documented what a muslim woman is subjected to, and frankly not being served at the local bodega ranks well near the bottom of that list.

    That it takes a muslim woman in a burqa not being served to raise the ire of some folks is only slightly less disturbing than the lack of action not taken by those who stood by and didn’t do a thing for fear of…whatever it was, and not nearly as disturbing as those who think this episode is a good example of what a muslim woman endures because she is muslim.


  33. Marty @ 29,

    No, the store can’t refuse service for any reason. Although you’re not alone in believing that this should be the case — Rand Paul’s right there with you — it is, in fact, illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, and so on. The clerk might’ve had a case for refusing her on the basis of her attire — attire is not a protected status — but that ain’t all he said.

  34. Mythago @33
    Last I checked, there were still a bunch of signs everywhere that stated that the police can remove you for “trespass after warning” and no signs saying that the restaurant HAD to serve you whether they wanted to or not.

    As to “lunch counter sit-ins”, That, in my opinion, was a violation of the business owner’s property rights. I feel a more appropriate way to deal with that is to compete, on the open market, with a lunch counter that serves all ranges of skin-tones, and see who wins.

    The business is private property and you are there because they let you, or else there could be no locks on the doors.

    If the actions of the clerk are against store policy fire him. Once I see that the clerk who refused service to the lady in the burqa no longer works there, I’ll resume my patronage of the establishment.

  35. While I think this “experiment” is interesting and eye-opening, the scientist in me is jumping up and down and waving big red flags. You can’t really draw a (scientific) conclusion from this since there was no control group.

    As has been pointed out, we don’t know what was going through the minds of these people. We don’t know how many said nothing because they tacitly agreed with the clerk, and how many said nothing because they would have said nothing regardless of the situation. Not to mention–and here’s where it really gets interesting–how many of those who said something about the mistreatment of the woman would have said nothing had it been a more “mainstream” American? That is, did the “hero” mentality make them more likely to react than they would to, say, a white person? A teenager? An African American? A Jew? We don’t know.

    Note to those with itchy troll-fingers: These are not rhetorical questions. I’m not implying any answers. I’m just saying that these are all valid and interesting questions, and the data we have is insufficient to draw any conclusions about them. I’d be very interested to see this experiment repeated in a more scientific setting, and I think we could learn some very interesting things from it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here (or, as the kids say, “tl;dr version”) is that this is ultimately entertainment, not evidence. It may be indicative, but it’s not conclusive. Get angry about it, sure, but don’t forget that it’s a TV program, set up and edited by producers looking to convey a specific story. Me, I’ll keep this in my back pocket, but I’m still waiting for the science.

  36. Paul, what I see you saying is that the question is invalid because the program uses actors and is edited. While you might object to the editing, the situation it recreates is one that happens in real life all the time. The show isn’t claiming to be news and focusing on that is a derailing tactic. Please stop.

    So to keep the conversation on topic, the question is: what would you do?

    You might try listing what the other choices are if your point is that there are other basic choices than a) disagree with the clerk, b) say nothing, or c) agree with the clerk.

  37. Marty @37: If a sign hung up by a shopkeeper contradicts the law, the sign does not control. Your opinion of what the law should say is not the same as what the law does say. The phrasing in your prior comment conflated the two.

    In any case, your view on private property rights are utterly beside the point. The question is not “should the store be forced to serve this person?”, but “How should we react in a situation like this?” Property rights are irrelevant to that question.

    I mean, we’d all agree that if I throw a party, I have an absolute right to invite who I want over and kick out people I don’t want over. If Jemisin shows up at my house and I tell her “sorry, this is a whites-only party”, the fact that the house is my property has nothing to do with how the white guests already present should react. And it would be decidedly odd for one of those guests to announce “Well, it’s mythago’s house, she can turn away whoever she wants!” Yes, everybody knows that. And it’s not the point.

  38. Paul @ #34,

    You’re not making sense. The report clearly showed more than “the racists and the heroes” — it showed a number of people who didn’t confront the clerk or speak up for the woman (which I’m guessing you’re calling the “hero” behavior), but simply walked out. And the report can’t show other “passive resistance” acts, like people writing editorials in the newspaper to complain about the store, spreading word of mouth that the store should be boycotted, etc. So clearly there are more than two choices, and the report showed several of them. The question that the report asks is open-ended: “What would you do”, instead of “Would you help this woman or do nothing?” or “Are you a racist or a hero”?

    And the experiment design was based on the real experiences of a Muslim woman — who in fact has endured much worse than a clerk refusing to serve her (she mentions racial epithets and physical assault). Or are you suggesting that incidences of blatant discrimination don’t occur in real life?

  39. As a commentary about those 22 people who did nothing, this is hardly unusual and is definitely not new. In 1954 my father wrote and sold a short story with the title, “When are people going to learn?” That story was published in the September 1954 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

    The basic plot dealt with a cop who was jumped by several thugs and clubbed to death on a city street in broad daylight, while a large group of citizens stood around and did nothing. The story was based on an actual event.

    My observation over the years since that story appeared has been that the majority of the population is not willing to “take a stand” in any area. They do not want to be disturbed from a quiet, peaceful existence, and will look the other way even when they do not agree with what is happening. Quoting what many may now consider a cliche, I think that the behavior of a high percentage of human beings can be described by Pastor Niemoller’s “First they came . . .

    – et –

  40. Just as an FYI: The program is an on-going one that poses a series of what they term ethical dilemmas ranging from witnessing a woman subjected to unwanted flirting to witnessing a homeless man assaulted to outright racism. Frequently they switch genders to see if that provokes a different reaction in people.

    The reason I posted this one is that I am uncomfortably aware that my own personal reaction to the Muslim community center in Manhattan has fallen into the spectrum of the “say nothing” group. In real life, I’m much more likely to speak up and have, but not always.

    What interests me is the question of “what would I do” and the self-examination that follows asking that question.

  41. for what it’s worth, the “what would you do” series has covered numerous other topics. some of them have been on: refusing service to gay parents, the attempted abduction of a child, drunk pilots, employees with down’s syndrome, abuse of a spouse or significant other in public (when either sex is the abuser), etc.

    what is most compelling about this is the differences between what people think they would do if confronted with a situation versus what they actually do. so many people think “i would never tolerate that” but then do nothing when they actually see something happening (even something as minor as a the verbal abuse of a spouse or significant other (and yes, one witness actually described it that way)).

    gentle reminders that we are responsible for the world in which we live are, sadly, necessary. and if the reminder comes in the form of a television show that is far preferable, in my opinion, than the phone call in the middle of the night because our local amber alert system has been activated for a critical missing. or reading in the paper that a woman was brutalized on campus while a group of people just watched it happen (or even recorded it with their phones). or, yes, even something as minor as someone being discriminated against in a local bakery.

  42. Andrew @35,

    Aaaaand that right there is a classic example of what I meant by “ignorant bullshit of the caliber spouted by most bigots”.

    There is no “the Muslim woman”, any more than there is “the Christian woman”. Islam is no more a monolith than any other major religion; there are many variants in the way the faith is practiced, and it’s altered further by local ethnic or non-religious cultural practices. Sure, there are some sects of Islam that treat women like crap. There are some sects of Christianity that do the same. Neither has anything to do with whether bigotry in this circumstance is OK.

    And it’s a hijab, not a burqua.

  43. And as Mary says in her last line —

    What interests me is the question of “what would I do” and the self-examination that follows asking that question.

    Keep the discussion on track, please. John has told me to mallet on the side of caution, so really, do try to be polite here.

  44. I have, thankfully, never been witness to similar discrimination.

    I like to think I would have eloquently rushed to the woman’s defense with well-reasoned arguments about the unlawfulness of religious discrimination (and Marty@37, it *is* illegal – see the “Public Accommodations and Facilities” section here: If my kids had been with me, I may have actually done that (always looking for “teachable moments” and I have, on occasion, pointed out deplorable behavior in other adults to them).

    However, in the absence of my kids, in all likelihood I would have been the guy dropping f-bombs on the way out the door (the whole “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy is both stupid and, in my opinion, extremely un-American, and unjust crap like that tends to get my blood up).

    As far as the folks doing nothing, I suspect that behavior is driven by personality more than anything. Some folks are more “I” than “E” on the Myers-Briggs and feel very uncomfortable getting involved. I do think that silence can be a form of tacit approval though, and in that context the “don’t get involved” mentality is clearly despicable.

  45. I’m actually impressed that so many people actually did something. 13 people who objected compared to 22 doing nothing is a surprisingly high ratio (as for the 6 who actually agreed… yikes).

    I’m sure most of us have encountered the bystander effect before, perhaps from both sides. It’s incredible how much of an effort it can be to overcome that and actually speak out/do something about something you know is wrong. I’m with Mary–my hat’s off to all those who spoke out. Even “go f*** yourself” guy had to overcome situational inertia.

  46. @47, Jim C:

    “Some folks are more “I” than “E” on the Myers-Briggs and feel very uncomfortable getting involved. ”

    I think you just hit the nail on the head for me. I’m definitely more on the I side. I suspect I’d be pretty unlikely to confront someone over an issue like this in the moment (unless someone was getting physically hurt), no matter how much I’d like to imagine otherwise. Am I proud of this? Not at all. Just honest enough to know that it’s probably what would happen.

    However! I’d also be the guy who would not only boycott the bakery, but also spread the word about what happened and encourage my friends, family, blog readers, twitter followers, and anyone else who will listen to do the same. Does that make me less of a “hero?” Yeah, probably. But I like to think it’s better than keeping completely silent.

  47. Mythago @40

    Laws aside, I’ve already stated what I would do, and what I feel others *should* do: Walk out, and inform the business owner (assuming it’s not the clerk) of why, and what he/she can do to regain my – and my peer-group’s – business.

    This is respectful of the business owner’s right to do business – or not – with whomever he choses, as well as my own.

  48. I’ve mentioned before that I work in IT. Well, one of the really disturbing trends we see is the way our Indian colleagues get treated. Many, many jobs have been lost to offshoring and H1B contractors from India. Bob, Tom, and Larry have been replaced by Suresh, Aravind and Abdul. Lots of people take that out on every Indian they see. I stomp that down every time I see it, because that is bullshit. You’re unhappy that Tom got the axe and now we have Suresh? Take it up with the American executive who decided to outsource, pal. This bigotry takes many forms: It may be something as small as being condescending to every Indian person or as big as deliberately adding manual steps to an application or declining to fix a problem because “Abdul will take care of it.”

    I can never decide who I’m more angry at – the assholes who do this stuff or the people who meekly say nothing when they know it’s wrong. Land of the free, home of the brave – except when you might have to speak up, right? At least misguided assholes have the thin excuse of being misguided assholes, you know? If you know it’s wrong, you watch it happen, and you say nothing, you’re complicit. You don’t have to get mad and swear and cause a scene, but you are obligated to voice your disapproval if for no other reason than I know you’d want someone to say something if you were the one getting crapped on. Do unto others and what not.

  49. [Comment deleted for both taking conversation off the rails and arguing quite ineffectively. Feel free NOT to comment again on this post. KEB]

  50. Kate,

    Apologies; I don’t think you were aiming this at me, but I should own my temper. I’m having trouble staying polite, but then I usually have trouble staying polite when people try to rationalize bigotry. I tend to read those rationalizations as the height of impoliteness, personally.

    I’ll try to do better.

  51. nkjemisin @41: the tough part is that while people may have gone on to do something about it – calling the District Manager, putting up a review on Yelp, telling all their friends – the person being discriminated against almost certainly does not know that. So even if, say, the people who ‘did nothing’ do something that not immediately visible, the appearance – to the clerk and the customer – is of tolerance.

    I don’t mean this as a slam on people like Jim and Jason in the least.

  52. @ Eridani #51

    I’m in IT as well and have seen the same thing. My friends and I all do our best to stamp it out, with whatever means we have at our disposal. I think our favorite trick from back in our HP days is when someone like that hangs up on one of our Indian colleagues is to all go into not-ready (oh, we’re phone support BTW) and make it so that when the guy calls back he keeps getting the same agent over and over, and either has to deal with it or stop calling.

    As to what I’d do in the situation…. I really don’t know. I’d like to think I’d say something, at the very least I’d vote with my wallet and leave. I’d definitely respond to the one thing the guy said about her having a bomb. I mean, come on, if she was wearing a bomb she could have easily exploded it right there and killed everybody in the store. Saying something that stupid is just begging to be mocked.

  53. You’re right, That was off-track, though I was addressing what I saw as the core issue here, that is NOT what is being discussed. What is being discussed is the proper response to the bigotry, which I feel to be: solidarity with the woman in the hijab. If you disagree with the discrimination, don’t give the discriminating business your money. Dropping the f-bomb on the way out is optional.

  54. In all honesty, I’m very glad I wasn’t there. I tend to get myself in trouble when I see someone being bullied or mistreated. I probably would have reacted very poorly.

    My utmost respect goes out to the man whose son just got back from the service and to those girls at the end. They made me go all misty eyed.

  55. I witness a lot of bigotry. My husband is second generation Syrian-American. It shows in him, and it shows in our eldest. (Our youngest is pale as a sheet, like me.)

    My husband and son – naturally born American citizens – have been called all manner of name. Sand nigger, towel head, desert monkey, camel jockey, ragtop, dune coon. You name it, they’ve been called it. On 9/11/01, my husband was punched in the face by a screaming redneck at his place of employment, because “You People” attacked the WTC. My eldest, who was only 9 years old then, was called a “dirty muck much” by a neighbor. Husband has been detained for “security purposes” when traveling for work. Son has been assaulted at school because of his ethnicity. (And to give the thugs an extra something special to bitch about, husband is atheist, son is a Kemetic.)

    We had a STORE EMPLOYEE come up to us one afternoon to tell us a “joke”. What’s the difference between toddlers and terrorists, he wanted to know? Why, terrorists wear their diapers on their heads, yuk yuk yuk. Geddit? On their heads! Wakka wakka! (My husband glared and dragged me away – I was ready to tear him a new one. I ended up calling the store manager and pitching a fit the next morning anyway.)

    I speak up. I pitch a fit. I call a festering asshole a festering asshole, and ask said festering assholes what the fuck is wrong with them. It doesn’t have to be my husband or kid or father in-law for me to step up. I step up for total strangers, too, because it’s the right thing to do. Because ALL Americans are “Real Americans”, not just the white ones.

  56. “and a white couple who I subconsciously labled as “redneck white trash” without even consciously looking at them.” from Goober @11

    I’m surprised that this has largely gone uncommented on given the topic at hand dovetails with the action performed in Goober’s own ‘hero’ story. I mean, it’s great that it turned out his snap value judgement based on auras turned out to be right. But, means and ends, right?

    Otherwise, I take an xkcd approach to every checkout encounter. I constantly plan out the most efficient line of attack in every new environment just in case a similar situation arises. It just happens that usually the most efficient attack is to mutter quietly to myself about injustice while I count out exact change.

  57. I can’t say I’d do this every time. Some moments, I’m more brave/extroverted than others. But the last time I was third party to a moment of hate in physical space happened in San Francisco. Van driver cut off a bicyclist and called him a “faggot.” His window was open, so I called out as he passed me while doing a right turn, “Nice language for San Francisco, asshole.”

    “Fuck you.”

    “You wish.”

    He clearly was trying to find a way to U-turn in the middle of the street to tell me off even more, but I crossed the street and finished walking to work without seeing him again.

    I wish I’d gotten the company name and license plate off the van. They’d have loved to hear an employee was using hate speech and driving erratically in downtown SF at 8:30 AM.

    I split physical space from virtual because I see the hate more often online. It’s also easier to react to it or leave it alone as well when on a computer.

  58. @59: “I’m surprised that this has largely gone uncommented on given the topic at hand dovetails with the action performed in Goober’s own ‘hero’ story. I mean, it’s great that it turned out his snap value judgement based on auras turned out to be right.”

    Of course it’s gone uncommented. It’s often easy to spot white trash. One Confederate battle standard or American flag item on the wardrobe and my antennae go up. Sorry you seem to think it matters that some of us know the signs while you don’t.

  59. to actually answer the question, i’m the type of person that calls out bad behaviour when i see it. and i can be quite vocal and colourful about it.

    i spent a long time with nobody speaking up for me and decided that i would never watch anyone in that situation and not do something about it, even if it was only to speak up and say “hey, you should NOT be doing that.” if we can get to the “this is why” part of the talk, that’s great; if not, at least both the idiot and the person be subjected to the idiocy will know that i am not silence and do not give my consent.

  60. Lysana @61

    “It’s often easy to spot white trash.”

    Well, sure I know the signs. Just like we all know the signs for poor black trash and poor puerto rican trash, right?

    Goobers written statement said “subconsciously”. Which is different than sussing out clues based on telltale pieces of information. But, I have a problem with it anyway.

    It comes with the implications that either/both a) only poor white trash harass people for speaking Spanish and b) every poor white trash person, whatever that means, harasses people.

    So, it’s the point of the exercise right? Confront intolerance where you see it. Doffing off a “see how successfully I prejudged that poor white trash” is ignorant and intolerable behavior.

    I ask directly, what did establishing prejudices add to the story? Does it matter which “poor trashy” race was harassing a lady for speaking Spanish? No. It doesn’t.

  61. What would I do? I like to think I would speak out against the discrimination. But we all like to think of ourselves as heroes outside of the actual situation.

    I am lucky and have wonderful neighbors who wear burqas and hijabs. It does cloud my judgment. Enough so that I bought one of these,, even though I live far from NYC and dislike making my crotchfruit parade my politics.

  62. The phrase white trash is inherently offensive.

    Kudos to Mary and N.K. and mythago for their ongoing, great comments in this thread. (And others, too, those were just the ones I kept noticing and cheering.)

  63. @49, Jason, I’m pretty much as Introverted you can get on the M-B scale and like you I don’t know how much I’d be able to react at the time if I was at the back of the line. Certainly I’d say something if he tried to serve me before my turn but I would find it very hard to do anything before that.
    Mary, thanks so much for putting this up.
    I could hardly control my tears as I watched the last couple of minutes with the customers blasting the store clerk. Reminds me very much of how I feel on National Sorry Day (I’m Australian – anybody who isn’t aware of the day should read about it on Wikipedia) and on 13th Feb 2008 when Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation (also see Wiki)

  64. This sort of thing actually scares me. That’s not the sort of America I want to live in. Luckily, there were those few who stood up for her…they give me hope.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but since it’s especially relevant: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

    By saying nothing, those 22 people were silently condoning the clerk’s behavior.

  65. Dorothy Allison, Trash:

    My family’s lives were not on television, not in books, not even comic books. There was a myth of the poor in this country, but it did not include us, no matter how I tried to squeeze us in. There was this concept of the “good” poor, and that fantasy had little to do with the everyday lives my family had survived. The good poor were hardworking, ragged but clean, and intrinsically honorable. We were the bad poor. We were men who drank and couldn’t keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes. My cousins quit school, stole cars, used drugs, and took dead-end jobs pumping gas or waiting tables…. We were not noble,not grateful, not even hopeful. What was there to work for, to save money for, to fight for or struggle against? We had generations before us to teach us that nothing ever changed, and that those who did try to escape failed…

    I had sweet-tempered cousins and I saw them get ground down. I had gentle aunts and it seemed they almost disappeared out of their own lives. Is it any wonder that when I set out to write stories, I made up women like my grandmother, like my great-grandmother? Troublesome, angry, complicated women with secretive, unpredictable natures… I wrote to release indignation and refuse humiliation, to admit fault and to glorify the people I loved who were never celebrated…

    I originally claimed the label “trash” in self-defense. The phrase had been applied to me and to my family in crude and hateful ways. I took it on deliberately, as I had taken on “dyke”–though i have to acknowledge that what I heard as a child was more often the phrase “white trash.” As an adult, I saw all too clearly the look that would cross the face of any black woman in the room when that particular term was spoken. It was like a splash of cold water, and I saw the other side of the hatefulness in the words. It took me right back to being a girl and hearing the uncles I so admired spew racist bile and callous homophobic insults. Some phrases cannot be reclaimed.

  66. I have confronted people on other peoples’ behalf (once the perpetrator hit me for it, too), and so like to think I would have done so in this instance. I would absolutely never shop at that store again, and would have explained to management why.

  67. @ Rachel Swirsky

    Well picked. I hadn’t seen that work before.

    There’s an equally strong tendency toward classism as much as there is racism in this country. They mix and match of course, but there are discernible biases at play originating from both points. I think both are equally dangerous and detrimental.

    Not to mention the fact that minorities are disproportionately affected by negative biases based from both.

    Bottom line, any language that equates any group of people to valueless/garbage is out of line, period.

  68. “Bottom line, any language that equates any group of people to valueless/garbage is out of line, period.”


    Allison’s collection is excellent, by the way. I’m reading it slowly; some of the stories are so intense I need breaks between.

  69. et @ 42 — In a similar vein, Harlan Ellison’s The Whimper of Whipped Dogs is worth noting as well.

    I look WASPy. I’m not, or not as much as it might appear from the outside, but most people don’t know that. But because I look WASPy I get exposed to the secret handshake. If you’ve never experienced the secret handshake, it works like this —

    In a small group or at a party, you are approached by a new acquaintance. In a jovial yet subtly hushed tone, a joke is told. The joke is edgy but not overtly racist/bigoted. The punchline makes reference to a common racial or ethnic or religious stereotype. From the corner of the eye, the joke teller watches you carefully to see how you react. If you laugh loudly, that’s a good sign. Then you tell one of your own. You both laugh, relieved that you are among your own.

    That’s how you get through the facade and into the “real” discussions of race, ethnicity and/or religion–from the point of view of “they are inferior to us” of course.

    If you don’t laugh, and don’t return the joke, then the person shuts up and you talk about something, anything, else. And you find that the person stays–at best–a distant acquaintance. (Which is fine, of course. But in some circles business depends on relationships ….)

    If you get indignant, the person claims it was just a joke and labels you as being oversensitive. Then s/he tells everybody at the party or in the group how oversensitive you are, which is code for letting them all know you are not one of them, so nobody else needs to try the handshake.

    But this thread is about me, right? What do I do when the secret handshake is trotted out? My wife tells me I look puzzled, like I can’t figure out what is going on or why the person would even tell that joke. Then I ignore the person. If somebody else ventures the handshake/joke, then we leave as quickly as politeness permits.

    I’m not proud of my reaction; I wish I was more confrontational. Maybe I would stand up for the woman in the video, or maybe that’s the fantasy image in my head.

  70. Ben @8: Actually. When they retried the Milgram experiment a few years ago, the results were basically the same. Despite the fact Milgram IS known and heard of, the subjects reacted the same way. So no. Knowledge is not always power.

    I would walk out after loudly snarking the clerk, myself. I know I would, I’ve done it in different situations before. What’s he going to do? Nothing, I’m a pretty blue-eyed white woman and thusly I can get away with publicly calling out crap more than someone of a minority can. Did it really make a difference? No, not really, but hopefully it would have made the woman feel slightly better. I say I would snark, simply because I’ve learned over the years that you cannot reason with people like that. You just can’t. So hopefully you make them feel bad for a second (incredibly petty of me, YES I am aware, but he’s making his would-be customer feel bad) and you call the manager in the morning. If that WAS the manager/owner, then I am never shopping there again and I WILL be letting everyone I know who is local know.

    A gas station near where I used to live has a Muslim woman in hijab at the front counter. I respected her so much for continuing in her job in the wake of 9/11. If I came inside after that, I started complimenting her hijab, saying what a pretty colour/pattern or what have you, just small talk. She clearly liked the positive treatment, and I’m guessing she had so much negative feedback just for keepin’ on keepin’ on.

    I get crap when I choose to wear a headscarf, and have since 2001. I buy them from Jewish sites and tie them according to Jewish styles (I am not Jewish nor do I look it). Even though you usually see a little bit of my hairline and I do not wear them in the hijab style, I still am told that I’m too white to wear one of those, too pretty to be oppressed, etc. Look, you idiots, I’m just trying to effectively keep every strand of my hair out of my face and off my neck! It has nothing to do with what deity I do or don’t worship! And why must you feel the need to remark on it?! And more tellingly…does the fact that my skin tone matches theirs make the people who comment think they can? That they have the right?

    In America and other westernized countries, wearing the hijab can be a strong decision made by the woman herself. I’ve actually been informed by both Muslim men and women that the Koran does not demand a woman wear the hijab to be a good Muslim. By choosing to wear the hijab, the woman makes the statement that she does not want her hair or face or skin to distract weak-willed men who respond sexually to those features from seeing her as she really is. This is of course not true in places where the woman is required to wear the burqa, but that’s the original spirit behind it. Religion can be twisted to do crazy things in a culture, and not just extreme body coverings.

  71. Nick from the OC

    “I’m not proud of my reaction; I wish I was more confrontational. Maybe I would stand up for the woman in the video, or maybe that’s the fantasy image in my head.”

    I know what you mean about that secret handshake moment. As Julia noted, and one or two of our fearless guest hosts, you can’t rationalize with bigotry. So, I try not to be too hard on myself if I pass an opportunity to confront this in a one on one environment. At least, stronger than the same passive way my opinion was being felt out. I can’t go with the flow on that, because my rage can be like a tidal wave. And that initial joke is the first tremor of an underwater earthquake.

    That said, in my head I’m always the strong, eloquent warrior prince with the catlike reflexes and the heart of gold. In reality, I fell down the stairs last week and knocked a hole in the wall. So, it’s hard to say.

    My defense mechanism is humor. But sometimes my sense of humor is really dark and bitter. So hard to say where I wind up. I’m going to say, hot sauce packets in the eyes. My eyes. Because of a stumble. Intended move “You know what, fuck this place. Youwannagetacoffee?”

  72. I probably wouldn’t have done anything. I’m surprised so many people did do something. I suspect this is because a clerk at a bakery has relatively little power compared to this customers.

    If this had been set at a bank or a medical clinic or a government office (the DMV?) then I doubt there would have been nearly as many interveners. Probably there would have been none.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that this clerk, were he a real person, would engage in behavior that would get him bitched out at by 1/4th of the spectators. He would do it when there were no spectators. He would do it when he felt safer. He would do it when they were alone.

    That woman who wore the hijab was so tearful when she talked to the man whose son had been to Iraq. But this is her life. How many times have people intervened? Clearly not that many. Clearly not 1/4th of the time, or she would not have been so shocked.

    If anything, this video put a very sunny spin on the dreadful reality of her life. The reality is that there is no white knight, and no one steps in.

  73. @75 – When researchers select participants to re-do the Milgram experiment, they weed out people who are already aware of the Milgram experiment.

  74. Andrew @35,

    You’ve been pulled up for saying ‘a muslim woman’ when you should have said ‘some muslim women,’ but I think your idea is valid. Here’s a dilemma for the punters: You’re a muslim woman in Saudi Arabia! You want to go for a walk without a chaperone! You get raped and then sent to prison for adultery! What should bystanding nations do?
    (a) The people of the USA value their Saudi allies!
    (b) The people of the USA demand an intervention to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East!
    (c) Saudi, is that a supermarket chain?

  75. MRK @ 39

    In ‘Holy Cow’ by Sarah Macdonald, an Indian man gives his opinion on why we in the West are so miserable; I can’t remember the exact words, but it’s something along the lines of when Westerners see people starving, we feel angry and guilty, while Indians see the same thing and feel lucky they they are not starving themselves.

    Maybe choice (d) is ‘feel grateful for whatever privileges you were born with’?

  76. @Thoraiya

    (d) Throw money, support, resources, and personnel aid in service of Saudi feminists (or wherever local people tell us the resources will do most good).

  77. @80 Thoraiya An internal feeling isn’t really an action.

    In general folks, let’s be clear here when we are talking about stereotypes. We can’t guess other people’s motivation. I know that some Muslim women choose to wear a burqa and some are forced to it but I can’t tell that when looking at them. Thinking that I could would be arrogant; making the choice for them, more so, in that it would impose my cultural beliefs on them.

    I’m also going to point out that saying “[x] group has it worse than [y] so we shouldn’t worry about [y]” is a classic derailing tactic. The fact that oppression occurs elsewhere does not relieve my individual responsibility toward injustices committed in my presence. When I choose to respond or not respond I am making a choice that is immediate and has an impact.

  78. Part of the bigotry problem, particularly regarding those of the Muslim faith, is that there isn’t (AFAIK) a “central voice” for the Islamic world, someone analogous to the Pope, who would denounce the terrorists as acting totally contrary to what real Muslims believe and teach. Sure, individuals (of all faiths) have done so, but none in a position of authority. The so-called “jihad” is a fraud, since a real jihad is a religious war by definition, and religious beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorist actions.

    As for intolerance in the U.S. even to this day, I’m not terribly surprised myself. I lived in the Washington D.C. area from 1964 to 1971 (I’m from NYC originally, and have been resident in Canada nearly 40 years now). I liked exploring back roads and alternate routes when going places, and was floored to see on US 1, between Wash. and Baltimore, nearer the latter, there was still a small motel marked “for colored” in the late 60’s. Anyone know if it’s still there?

  79. A slightly less confrontational response to the waters-testing/’handshake’ thing is to pretend not to get the joke. Then the idiot has to explain WHY the ‘joke’ is funny, and you can keep up pretending cluelessness until they a) give up or b) finally reach the point in the joke where the unfunny bigotry is obvious (“see, it’s because Jews are greedy”), at which point their idiocy can no longer be masked as humor. For extra fun, you can keep pretending puzzled interest and quizzing them about b).

    I also like the tactic suggested by a Miss Manners reader of replying to such comments with a cold stare and “Perhaps you didn’t know that my mother is __________.” The reader said this always produces a hasty backtrack – even the ‘just joking’ tactic tends to fall flat when you’ve insulted someone’s mother – as well as amused awkwardness when the ____________ doesn’t seem to match the speaker, but there’s no socially graceful way to say, for example, “But you’re Pasty McPastyson, how can your mother be black?”

  80. Kitty genovese makes good copy but doesn’t portray reality.

    I am of the impression that the more a person demands absolute perfection in how people respond to injustice, the less they have actually had to deal with injustices themselves. Its the arm chair commando who is quickest to call others coward.

  81. Mary: the question is what would you do?

    No one can answer that definitively and still be honest with themselves. The best we could do is say what we would hope to do. But having been put into situations where i did what was right only because all other options were removed, i know that what i hope and what i might end up doing don’t neccessarily line up every time.

    And anyone who says they always lived up to their own expectations of what is right, i would say those people have lived a ‘sheltered’ life. There’s a saying that goes something like ‘people who never fail have been playing it safe’.

  82. Rachel, MRK:

    (d), the private contributions of individuals, will never succed while the government requires Saudi to be stable, and being stable involves keeping the people crushed under the thumb of the royal family and their Wahhabi masters.

    I’m not trying to say that discrimination against women in Saudi makes it OK for the American guy in the shop to discriminate against a muslim woman. I think everyone agrees that’s not acceptable, that the correct thing to do is intervene, and that unfortunately we don’t all do the correct thing all the time.

    I was just curious to see if you think that the second part of Asimov’s first law, as quoted above by NKJ, also applies on a global political scale, or is it only for personal situations?

    Does inaction really make you as guilty as the perpetrator?

    If you were the US Government, what would YOU do?

  83. The US government? Could support internal forces for change, and international aid organizations.

    We repeatedly hear (to no one’s astonishment) from women in countries where we think of them as oppressed that bombing them and forcing regime change only makes their lives worse. Now they have all their former problems to deal with, but also the threat of airborne death, and disintegration of their families.

    There are certainly occasions in which military intervention would be appropriate–see also, opening the Holocaust Museum while letting the Rwandan genocide occur unopposed despite the presence of willing UN troops.

    I’m not going to pursue this line of conversation with you any further.

  84. That’s fine.

    I’m used to any broadening of the conversation being called “derailing”, and I can see how it is hard to defend your government’s friendship and support of Saudi Arabia. I don’t think you should have attacked Saudi instead of Iraq to free the women, I think you should have attacked Saudi instead of Iraq because that is where Bin Laden is from, and all the Wahabbi schools that the Saudis are setting up all over the poor Islamic world are where your future Bin Ladens are going to come from.

    If only a response of (a), (b) or (c) is called for here, then my answer to What Would You Do? is to walk out of the shop.

    Just like I did in a Damascus kebab shop after being ignored for 20 minutes while all the men in the line beind me got served.

    Sometimes you just have to suck it up and go somewhere that you know you will be treated better. That’s what all those muslim migrants and refugees are doing in the US in the first place.

    And if I sound mad, well, anti-Islam sentiment makes me mad, but equally maddening is pro-Islam sentiment from people who have never had to live under an Islamic regime.

  85. I once found myself in a similar situation — a group of friends (one of whom is gay) waiting in a line in front of a young man who was spewing homophobic bullshit into his cell phone. I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier but told myself, no, not worth it, gay friend hates confrontation, he’s not talking to you, there’s no physical violence, if it gets too bad we’ll just walk away, etc.

    And then all of a sudden I had turned around and started screaming obscenities at this stupid teenage boy. In my mind, I’m still standing there, furious but silent, but in reality I’m screaming and dropping f-bombs and threatening the kid. And he shut up right quick.

    I don’t regret what I did, and now, several years later, I can laugh about it, but it scares me how quickly I lost control and how hard it was to regain it. I literally did not know what I was doing or saying until I was halfway through my tirade. But I hope I’d do this again because, at the very least, assholes should know they are assholes and, on a very selfish level, I don’t want people thinking I agree with that sort of bullshit.

    Along those lines, I thought it was interesting that of the two women at the end, it was the non-Muslim woman who was more visibly upset. I am aware that this comes off as sort of “oooh it’s all about me” white girl bs, but I get it — she gets hit with a double whammy of sorts. First her friend is explicitly or implicitly slandered or targeted, and then she is (at least until she opens her mouth) explicitly or implicitly assumed to agree with the racist/bigoted crap because of the color of her skin. It’s nothing compared to the actual physical assault that the Muslim woman in the video mentions, of course. To me, what it feels like is when you’re a kid and your parents say “no” to something and you just feel so powerless and frustrated that all you can do is cry.

  86. Since people keep saying they wouldn’t be the hero they would want to be, I feel the need to point out that one definition of hero is someone who gets other people killed.

    Instead of ‘what would you do?’ A question id be interested in is ‘what response would make a racist stop being racist?’ If any.

  87. Greg @ 92

    “Instead of ‘what would you do?’ A question id be interested in is ‘what response would make a racist stop being racist?’ If any.”

    I also think that’s the most relevant question. I wonder, how small should “stop being racist” be defined.

    Are we talking about confronting bigotry to stop one person from being attacked, verbally or otherwise.

    Or, are we talking changing hearts and minds.

    Which informs why I’m more inclined to Mythago’s “misunderstand the joke” in a one on one, because I think I can’t change the heart or mind of this fellow who’s trying to tell me a joke at a party.

    But, I can, at the least, offer some support to a person being verbally harassed. But, even that, I wonder how effective that kind of support can be. I think, at best, it can disrupt the flow of the conversation allowing the one or both to move on.

    Bigotry isn’t a rational position. In a extremely local sense, one on one or you and a few other people, what is a meaningful reaction?

    I wonder is adding to the confrontation seen by that person as elevating the tension of a regular occurrence? Or is it appreciated for deflecting some of the hate?

  88. 1. I had a childhood friend, second gen Chinese American who used to get called gook on a regular basis. He also used to get, “you speak english pretty good, how long have you been in the country.”

    Which also happened to Ronald Takaki, I might add.

    2. I had a friend/fellow teaching peer who is Muslim hear this.

    “What country are you from?” That happened at a Wal-Mart.

    3. In South Korea back in 1993 I frequently served around soldiers who referred to the Koreans as, “gooks.”

    Now, what to do about the problem. In the case of my childhood friend, dealing with the problem always escalated into violence. Everytime. Since he was my friend, I didn’t mind beating the holy snot out of someone who made cracks about him.

    In the case of my teaching peer, I wasn’t there when it happened but she handled it well enough when she said, “I was born here, how long have you been in the country?”

    As for the peers in the Army, again it boiled down to whether or not I was prepared to use physical force.

    Before I moved into teaching I used to work as a private security officer. If I ran into the problem as a private officer I’d have to ask myself just how far I’d be willing to go. I would have, if I were on my client’s property, my security commission to back up any move I make. That said if the shop owner was on the client’s property, if I took action and the shop owner wasn’t happy with it, I could lose my job.

    Right or wrong won’t matter.

    Conversely, as a private citizen if I took action, I can guarantee such a problem will escalate.

    Probably the only place where I have the tactical advantage is where I work now as a college instructor. If such behavior manifests the college will back me up when I take action. If anything, they will be upset with me if I FAIL to take action.

    In any case there is a personal cost to intervention and not everyone has the same threshold for conflict as others do.

    If anything, I’d say the most likely cause of inaction among many is more due to apathy than anything else.

    My two cents.

    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer Marches

  89. @85
    ‘I also like the tactic suggested by a Miss Manners reader of replying to such comments with a cold stare and “Perhaps you didn’t know that my mother is __________.”’

    Interesting point, mythago. Just on my mother’s side, I’m “international hash”, mostly Irish-German-Swedish (admittedly those are Caucasian, or close enough) and Cherokee-Osage. Never knew anything about my natural father (she was single, and I sorta got the idea it was a “ships going bump in the night” thing), so I could be just about anything in the world on his side.

    Admittedly that’s a problem any time I need to know if a given medical condition is in my family history, since in his case I haven’t a clue. I can only hope that if there was something I should know about, I’d have been told.

  90. Other bill. I think that escalating an issue can, sometimes, cause the bigot to escalate their response. Bigotry is really nothi.g more than an attempt by the bigot to establish their power over someone. Challenging their power may cause them to escalate. This is where being the ‘hero’ gets other people killed. On some level, i think escalating an issue around bigotry would have to satisfy the same set of requirements for initiating a moral war. Those requirements include that you have a reasonable chance of winning and that not fighting would cost more lives than fighting.

    Which means if you do NOT have a reasonable chance of winning, then starting a war is, no matter how ‘wrong’ you think the enemy is, is immoral action on your part.

    Something any ‘hero’ out there should consider before they go off half cocked and righteous. Righteous wars are not neccessarily moral wars.

    As for winning hearts and minds, i have seen a racist individual at least alter their actions after someone intervened and pointed out to them the human cost of their bigotry. Anger was not part os the response, though. More like an atticus finch intelligent and calm determination. Did the racist stop thinking racist thoughts? Probably not, at least not right away. But they changed their behavior.

    There likely is no single canned response that would always make a bigot stop being a bigot. But being a ‘hero’ or a ‘knight’ probably wont work. Once you start talking about forcing people to not be bigots, you’re probably looking sat needing systemic solutions, not vigilantes.

    Individuals forcing other individuals to do anything is a problematic solution.

    Another thing that is telling would be whether a heros response would be the same whether the bigot was a stranger like the store clerk or a close member of their family they see on.a regular basis, i think if the response is different depending on who it is, then it indicates the response to the stranger might be escalating the issue and taking advantage that the hero will never see the bigot again. But what if the customer in the video regularly goes to that store? And you are a ‘hero’ and tell the clerk off? You never see the clerk again, but the victim might see them every day. Heroes get other people killed.

    What if the bigot is you brother and the victim is your spouse? Do you react the same as if it were some random store clerk you never seagain? Do you burn that bridge forever by tearing him a new hole? Do you wage total warfare against any and all bigot? War of annhilaton? Is that still a moral war?

    Just because you are right and they are wrong doesn’t make nuclear first strike a moral option for you.

  91. Greg:

    “There likely is no single canned response that would always make a bigot stop being a bigot.”

    Yes, this. And I think it’s at the heart of what to do in each case. If the goal is to steer bigots to the right path, it necessitates such a fine response that an angry flash bang of a response probably is the wrong way.

    If the goal is to help absorb some of the negativity, grabbing the attention of the harasser is productive. That requires much less finesse.

    In that line:

    “On some level, i think escalating an issue around bigotry would have to satisfy the same set of requirements for initiating a moral war. Those requirements include that you have a reasonable chance of winning and that not fighting would cost more lives than fighting.”

    I think that thought follows naturally. I want to say: I think that’s reasonable and not hyperbolic, seriously. But without sounding like a condescending dickhole.

    So, I’ll move to: I think this is fairly correct. Confronting bigotry requires clear thought (of consequences for the victim at the least) and finessed response for success requiring an almost professional approach. Meaning, some sort of prefigured flexible model for interaction that can help you get involved without unnecessarily escalating a necessarily potentially dangerous situation.

    That said, should Joe Public get involved in a random encounter? Do we just call the law (professionals) or do we act, of course, but tentatively? I’m conflicted. At least, about the best way or how to get the best result or what that is. Less so about the getting involved part. Although my response is probably more like a five year old monotously chanting stranger-danger.

  92. What would I do? Nothing.
    Because in any given day, I run into dozens of things that I think ought to be done differently, large and small…but it’s not my job (or anyone’s job) to “fix” other people’s minds.

  93. Greg@96:
    Other bill. I think that escalating an issue can, sometimes, cause the bigot to escalate their response. Bigotry is really nothi.g more than an attempt by the bigot to establish their power over someone.

    And how is that “power” trip disrupted when everyone around the offender is a passive enabler? I make no apologies for being very confrontation with workplace arseholes who think it’s OK to make lewd and demeaning comments to female co-workers, or operate under the delusion I give a shit about their views regarding my homosexuality, ethnicity or religion. Does that make them stop being crass bigoted arse-hats. No — but it might just start imprinting the message that it is socially and professionally wise to keep their obnoxiousness to themselves.

    And it can be as simple as just saying “dude, that’s not cool — just chill the frak out.” It’s funny how often bullies aren’t such big shots when they’re stood up to.

  94. Or put another way: If you’re a racist, sexist religious bigot in the privacy of your own head, that’s your business. When it starts having an impact on my life, then you’re making it my problem. Your call.

  95. 22 people did nothing, and kept quiet

    this reminds me of the old saying that all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

    That was a scary video

  96. Cicada@100: If so, it does seem to be an odd situation- “I demand the right to not know if I’m disliked”

    Excuse me? I think my female co-workers and clients have the absolute right not to be subjected to unprofessional and vulgar comments on their appearance and speculation about their sexual habits and potential availability. No matter how much I dislike their resemblance to truck stop hookers.

    And anyone who doesn’t understand that should be told to pull their heads in or face the consequences.

    And, yes, I abso-fraking-loutely assert the right not to be subjected to obscene and threatening homophobic or racist abuse in public, or in the workplace. If you think I should just harden up and do nothing, or stand mute when other people are subjected to the same crap, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

  97. Though to be fair, Cicada, I’m really glad that you live in a world where racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of prejudice and public incivility never affect you. Could you give me directions, because I’d really love to move there.

  98. Greg, you make two points that are worthwhile and the rest is pretty much unmitigated bullshit.

    The two worthwhile ones boil down to:
    1. Every situation is different
    2. Being able to defuse a situation is a difficult skill.

    Where you go completely and totally off the mark is with the idea “Heroes get other people killed.” You know what? So do cowards.

    A failure to call people on their bullshit only leads them to believe that the bullshit is okay. They will escalate on their own because they’ve been given implicit permission. There are cases where ignoring someone — like a troll — works better than responding because the troll is saying deliberately inflammatory things for the purpose of provoking an argument.

    But in our thought experiment example of the bakery that’s not what’s going on. Granted, this is an actor. In real life, he probably would have backed down if only to keep from losing his job or customers.

    Would that have changed his heart or mind? No. But it would have done a lot to keep his damaging behavior from spreading. Silence = agreement. There’s no risk to him being verbally abusive if no one responds. People who agree with him but hadn’t reached the point of acting would likely be encouraged by the fact that he got away with it and try it on their own.

    Verbally disagreeing with someone is not a nuclear first strike. That’s a hyperbolic position that’s completely unsupportable.

  99. 101.) Cicada – You are done here. Please do not comment again on this thread. Any more posts by you will be deleted. I will not stand by as a moderator and watch you deliberately incite other participants with such backward logic.

    To all — do not feed trolls.

    As a reminder — if you wouldn’t say in person what you are about to submit in a comment to a bodybuilder who could break you in half, you shouldn’t say anything.

  100. Mary:

    “Verbally disagreeing with someone is not a nuclear first strike.”

    Agreed. But, by and large that hasn’t been the description of desired intent for reacting to this scenario.

    I can’t speak for Greg, but what I thought was relevant about the point was that verbally escalating a situation may not accomplish what hyopthetical you want it to. And I think a lot of the discussion in the post has veered toward verbal escalation.

    Mind, I am not intending that as a criticism, or meaning to indicate that I’m unsympathetic to that response or that I wouldn’t respond like that. Just to say, that in a conversation about how to respond to bigotry it’s worth considering what you want to accomplish and the best way to do that.

    I do think its important to consider the instances where bullies are not immediately cowed by resistance. Where things get dangerous. Before you inject yourself into a tense situation. Which in my mind is separate than saying don’t get involved. Consider the goal, construct a best solution to fit that goal.

  101. Agreed. But, by and large that hasn’t been the description of desired intent for reacting to this scenario.
    Err… no. What people have been describing is how they think they are likely to respond to the bakery situation — which is the hypothetical we are discussing. How they are likely to respond is different from how they think they should respond. If you’ll read back through I think you’ll notice that there’s a general desire to produce a reasoned and compassionate statement while acknowledging that the actual outcome might be to go red and foamy.

    Please note: I personally think that in this particular scenario — which is the only one I’m talking about — red and foamy would do less damage than silence. Would I prefer to have a reasoned heart to heart that changed the bigot’s mind? Oh yes. Failing that, which is the more likely scenario, I’d want to be very clear that the behavior wasn’t acceptable.

  102. Other Bill @ #107,

    Agreed; consider the goal. What goal would you be aiming toward? If I were in that bakery, my goals would be a) letting the Muslim woman know that she’s not alone in her battle to be treated like a human being, and b) letting the clerk know — immediately, so as to stop the attack — that at least one person in that bakery considers his behavior unacceptable.

    I think your goals, or the things you’ve mentioned as possible goals, are too wide-range to be effective — educating/reasoning with the bigot? Changing hearts and minds? Once someone’s angry enough to start an attack like this, they’re beyond reasoning, IMO. Besides — screw the bigot; why be concerned about his needs? When I witness an assault, I don’t give a damn about the attacker. It’s the attackee who merits my concern and action.

    And I think “escalating” is an acceptable danger when confronting an attack of this nature. (Using scare quotes here because I’m not sure you’re really talking about escalation. Escalation usually refers to a situation in which there’s prolonged contact between two parties at stalemate or in some degree of stable relationship; not what’s happening here.) Doing nothing ensures that not only will the attack continue, but it’ll probably be repeated on other people — especially since the attacker got away with it once. The only way to stop this kind of attack is to provide the attacker with an immediate disincentive to continue his behavior. *Then* worry about hearts and minds, if that matters to you.

  103. Mary, if your dealing with third rate bogits and malcontents, my guess is you could say just about anything and not make the situation worse. If you have ever had to deal with a first rate bigot, you would know that verbal challenges can cause physical repurcussions. I have stood up for what was right only to have someone else suffer the consequences physically. So don’t tell me about ‘unmitigated bullshit’. The people most eager to go to war are the people who have never fought a real one.

    What i hear here is a lot of chest thumping and people congratulating themselves the more they are willing to verbally confront a bigot. Like there is no negative consequences to war. They will welcome us as liberators. We will be in and out in six weeks. That’s just chest thumping naivete. You confront the wrong person the wrong way and someone else could get hurt.

    What’s even more ridiculous is the notion that pointing out that there may be negative consequences to escalating a situation is turned into condoning the behavior. Um. No.

    The chest thumpers will view anything less than their war plan as a cowards route, but that’s like saying the only way to disarm sadam was to invade, the only way to stop al queda is indefinite detention, torture, and subvert due process.

    No thanks, been there done that.

    The question i asked was what action has the most likely chance of making things better for everyone, not just making you feel better because you told somee bigot” suck on this”.

  104. Right, Greg. The poster who talked about the harassment her husband and son face daily – and that she confronts repeatedly because it is not an academic question for her – is just “chest thumping” and acting like Dubya. Thanks for setting us all straight with your wisdom.

  105. Right mythago, everyone here is relating nothing more than their immediate personal experiences with bigots they’re dealing with right now. Thanks for bifurcating this into complete nonsense.

    Next time someone complains about the war in afghanistan just invoke the victims of 911. Right.

    The name of the show this clip came from was called ‘what would you do?” How many people here have responded with how they would FEEL and then what they would do to the bigot? Because thats what heroes do, they make it all about themselves.

    Now, compared to that, how many people here actually addressed the immediate issue in this scenario? You know, the actual victim here? The woman in the store? A lot of the responses have been what that person would say to the bigot to fight the good fight against bigotry. All im asking is what could you actually do for the actual victim here? Anyone who is focused on their own feelings and forgetting the actual victim is being a hero. Its all about them.

    And the” oh id chew him out so the woman would know i don’t condone his behaviour” nonsense is just that. Nonsense. You want to help the victim here? Then stop making it all about you and how brave you are to stand up to this bigot and call him an asshole, and just help the victim.

    You want to help people who are oppressed? Then here’s a woman who is oppresed right in front of you. Why are you making it all about how tough you’d be? How courageous you’d be?

    How can you make the situation better? How about this: stop thumping you chest, stop telling us how brave you are because you’d stand up to this bigot, stop making it about you and just help the victim.

    I think scalzi had a thread quoting the bible recently about gift giving anonymously versus gift giving to draw attention to you.

    What would i do in this situation? I dunno exactly, but my first fucking priority would be to help the woman in any way i can. And if i could do it anonymously, i would. I certainly am not going to brag about how tough id be.

    The bigot is secondary. I am not even on the list of priorities. I was a bystander, i am not going to turn this into how brave i am and all the cool vengeful things i will do to the bigot.

    Put another way, If you come upon a scene and see a mugger shoot someone, and you chase the mugger while the victim bleeds out, you got some messed up priorities.

  106. Greg@110: Mythago put it a damn sight more politely that I would have, but that really is a bizarre false equivalence.

    I’d respectfully suggest that the kind of “first rate bigot” who’d assault anyone who challenged them, might just have had something nasty in mind for the object of their verbal abuse anyway. If you’re going to passively enable every bully and thug you come across, then karma’s a bitch. And it bites.

  107. Mary Robinette Kowal:

    “If you’ll read back through I think you’ll notice that there’s a general desire to produce a reasoned and compassionate statement while acknowledging that the actual outcome might be to go red and foamy.”

    I agree with that. I don’t think I said that the thread was without reasoned discourse. But, I do draw a distinction between the f bomb and reasoned discourse.

    That said, I certainly am not critical of the general desire, or the general instance, where one does go a bit red and foamy as you say. I don’t think that’s wrong. At all.

    What I am trying to point to is that everyone should have a certain level awareness of the situation when they inject themselves into the conflict. A person giving you the secret code word jokes has already qualified themselves to be less likely to respond to red and foamy in a way that presents danger to you.

    But, a person full on bawling someone out over a bigotry related issue, in public, has a reasonable of chance of responding to red and foamy with a baseball bat.

    All I’m saying is, be aware that the group of bigots we’ve somewhat labeled bullies are called bullies because of their penchant for hitting people. And, saying glibly “Hey motherfucker, I just wanted you to know that you’re an asshole. How about them appples?” ***could*** lead to a violent response in your direction.

    Which, led me to argue that establishing my goals before hand will help me to make an important decision in a stressful moment in a safer way. If all I want to do is get the victim out of the way to stop the attack, there are safer ways to do that than going red and foamy. The problem with red and foamy is that the other guy is already there. And red and foamy versus red and foamy is a tense situation.

    Which, to that end


    “Besides — screw the bigot; why be concerned about his needs? When I witness an assault, I don’t give a damn about the attacker. It’s the attackee who merits my concern and action.”

    Yes. And I think this is where what I was trying to say got a little confused in the delivery. My point wasn’t to indicate that I’m necessarily overly concerned with the bigot. I agree. Screw them. But, I was trying to show that there is a decision path that takes you to a place where what the bigot thinks matters and there’s a decision path that takes you to a place where the Only thing that matters is helping the victim stop being attacked.

    So, I agree 100%. Whatever I said that made it sound like when I see a guy railing homophobic slurs at a person I think anywhere to myself “Now there’s a soul that could use my help.” wasn’t intended.

    “And I think “escalating” is an acceptable danger when confronting an attack of this nature…The only way to stop this kind of attack is to provide the attacker with an immediate disincentive to continue his behavior. *Then* worry about hearts and minds, if that matters to you.”

    I was using escalation in the sense that in my experience when I see a verbal conflict happening and a third party interjects with invectives, that verbal conflict has a reasonable chance of going physical.

    There’s a reason we call it attacking when somebody speaks like that to another human being. It’s violence of a sort. And violence goes hand in hand with, you know, physical violence.

    My only thought was to say, as has been said by our esteemed moderators today, be careful what you say if you wouldn’t say it to the face of an angry weightlifter who’s twice your size. This really isn’t to say don’t get involved. Just think about how you get involved. You haven’t helped anything if your interjection gets the crap kicked out of you and the original victim.

    Some of these situations aren’t dangerous like that at all. And some are. People who say things like the example in public AT a person in front them are clearly not rational thinkers. You know?

    Summed into a sentence: Getting your head bashed for your trouble isn’t a productive outcome. Be Cautious. In general, I think it’s great so many people want to go out and help.

  108. Apologies for the double:

    Saw this came up from Craig while I was typing the last:

    “I’d respectfully suggest that the kind of “first rate bigot” who’d assault anyone who challenged them, might just have had something nasty in mind for the object of their verbal abuse anyway.”

    I think that’s broadly right. But, in specific, bigotry is a hateful thing. And without going all yoda, hate and public harassment lead to a tense situation that is more likely to become violent than your average encounter with anyone.

    The office place bigot who talks smack behind people’s backs with snide jokes to like minded individuals is different than your active full on verbal attacker. I think you get the office place bigot in real life more often than the angry verbal attacker. But, the verbal attacker is much more likely to present a physical danger. Office place tough guy, way less so.

    And it’s worth saying, be aware of that when you intervene. Just like you should be aware that if you interject yourself into a situation where somebody is pushing around someone else they may or may not have a knife on their person. Doesn’t mean don’t help, but it does me be aware and know what you want to accomplish. Because it can get dangerous and cloudy in a flash.

  109. Craig, all mythago did was ignore the people my comments were aimed at, the chest thumpers, and invoke one particular post that wasn’t chest thumping and then try to imply thatt my criticism is invalid because this one person wasn’t chest thumping. Since this one post wasn’t chest thumping then no one could possibly be chest thumping.

    Logical fallacy. Ill leave it as an exercise for the readers to figure out which one.

    As for your “advice” about bigots, assholes, and violence, well, just for future reference, as someone who has dealt with violent assholes in reality, let me just say I don’t want your version of “help”. You want to help the victim, then help the victim. You want to turn it into a chance to wrap yourself in some self righteous flag and show the world what a brave white knight and hero you are, well then don’t insult the victims by saying you’re doing this for their benefit. You’re doing it foryourself.

  110. Craig: if you’re going to passively enable every bully and thug.

    That right there. I say the priority is about helping the victim. And you make it all about going on some righteous war against bigots.

    At what point did you determine logically that war was the best solution? My prioriy is whatever helps the victims of bigotry the most. If you could get equality for all but it meant you could never attack a bigot, could you accept equality? Or would you demand vengeance no matter the price?

    My question was what action provides the best result. You have yet to prove or even attemp to prove that your approach wil actually produce a good long term result. But to disagree with you is to passively enable bigotry.

    Really? You’re way is the only way? All else just enables bigots?

    I reaally would like to see the proof for that.

  111. Mary Robinette Kowal: If you’ll read back through I think you’ll notice that there’s a general desire to produce a reasoned and compassionate statement while acknowledging that the actual outcome might be to go red and foamy.

    And what I’m saying is if anyone goes red and foamy, it’s because they’re focusing on the bigot more than the victim.

    Please note: I personally think that in this particular scenario — which is the only one I’m talking about — red and foamy would do less damage than silence.

    If the choice is “damage” or “less damage”, then its a bad choice. I can think of a multitude of ways that would (1) help the victim that would (2) do no damage and would (3) actually benefit the victim.

    This defense of “red and foamy” as doing “less damage than silence” is a false choice. The choice isn’t “red and foamy” or “silence”. The choice wasn’t “invade Iraq to stop WMDs” or “nothing”.

    That’s a tribal response: This is evil, it must be anhilated. anything less than annhilation is condoning and enabling evil.

    But there are other alternatives.

    It’s just impossible to see other alternatives while stuck in the tribal response.

    What actions could you do in this situation that would empower the victim? Help her? Reduce or eliminate whatever harm she felt in this particular situation? Chewing out the bigot is NOT the only answer. Anyone who cannot see beyond that answer cannot see beyond their version of tribalism. The question they’re answering is not “what can I do to help?” but rather “How can I annhilate this evil?”

    So, how about this. What if I were a bystander witnessing this woman trying to buy something and the clerk refuses her service because of her religion (or gender or race or orientation or whatever). What if I took the woman’s basket and put it in with mine and paid for it, then gave it to the woman, and left without saying a word to either the woman or the clerk?

    I solve the immediate problem that the woman wants to buy something but the clerk refuses. I buy the stuff for her. I make it clear to the woman that I do not condone this bigotted asshole. I make it clear to the bigotted asshole that I think he’s being a bigotted asshole. And yet I say nothing that anyone could take as a direct challenge.

    First priority: help the victim. Secondarily, the clerk gets I don’t support him. Thirdly, I do it without saying a word, without direct confrontation, and without making it all about me.

    Could it go all mushroomy anyway? Yeah. Sure. Assholes are assholes and I’ve had assholes swing at me for walking away from their bullshit rather than engage their stupid power trips. But my first priority is the victim here. I don’t matter. and the bigot doesn’t matter, really, either. So, I’d be willing to take that chance.

    But, just because I don’t get in this clerk’s face, I am passively enabling bigotry?

    People are saying they’d get all red and foamy? Really? The only responses you can come up with are red adn foamy responses? it sounds like a complete lack of imagination to me….

  112. Greg: I think you’ve crossed the line between disagreeing with something and attacking those who question what you are saying. I’m also holding up John’s issue with multiple successive posts.

    Please move on. Any further comments will be deleted.

    To anyone else considering responding in kind to Greg, remember to take a deep breath before hitting send. The mallet is now highly agitated.

  113. Greg. Thank you for finally answering the question “What would you do?”

    That wasn’t so hard was it?

    Unfortunately, you felt the need to “chest-thump” about what other people were doing wrong for several posts before answering the question. I trust this was an ironic demonstration of your point.

    Now stop making assumptions about other people’s states of mind or past experiences. You have no idea, NO idea, what other people have experienced.

  114. I like to think I would have said something. Intolerably rude, unjust and insulting behavior tends to rile me up.

    It seems to me that the majority of the people posting on this topic agree that whether the clerk had the “right” to deny her service and insult her is immaterial. His behavior was morally repugnant and indefensible.

    Sooo, I must say that I see a great measure of hypocrisy when the same people posting on this topic don’t understand why building a mosque at ground zero might seem insulting and repugnant to a lot of people like myself.

    The girl in the video doesn’t have to defend her outrage, but I know for a fact that I will have to, so let me get it out of the way.

    I am not an Islamaphobe. I am neither a racist, nor a bigot. I believe that all Americans should be free to practice their religion. I believe in individual property rights one hell of a lot more than Mayor Bloomberg does.

    I believe that the new owners of the Burlington Coat Factory building where the landing gear of one of the planes crashed through the roof have EVERY right to put up a mosque on the site.

    But, by God, I find their insistence on doing so incredibly offensive.

    You know why? Because it IS offensive. Over half the fucking country thinks it’s offensive. I’ll bet the guy in the video whose son served in Iraq thinks it’s offensive.

    No one gets to tell someone else when to be offended. Labeling everyone who is offended by the mosque a racist or bigot is no different than than the clerk in the video calling the young lady a terrorist.

    Would I say something to the clerk? You’re damn right I would. He was intentionally and deliberately being offensive.

    So what would you do? Someone is offending the crap out of me by doing something that I think (and most of the rest of the country thinks) is a slap in the face. Will you give him the old thumbs up like the dipshit in the video, or will you leap to my defense?

  115. Billy: You have a number of facts wrong.

    1. It is not a mosque. It is a community center.
    2. It is not at ground zero. It is four blocks — not the two that is often reported — four blocks from the proposed memorial. In New York, that’s in a different neighborhood.

    Now, to your assertion that I should defend your right to be offended.

    I completely understand why someone like you might find an Islamic community center to be offensive. It’s much the same way that people were offended by the Christian church built near the Centennial Olympic Park bombing– oh, wait. That didn’t happen.

    Here’s the thing. What you find offensive is the idea of someone gathering with other members of their religion in a place of their choosing. You are offended by their choice of locations in which to fulfill their wish to play basketball, learn accounting, and to cook. Also to pray.

    By asking me to defend your right to be offended by this, you are asking me to value your hurt feelings over their rights. No. I won’t do that.

  116. Re: 12.

    I’m roaming through the comments, so someone might have already said this. But, loathe as I am to point it out, someone in that situation might have been racist /and/ bigoted. Only a thought!

  117. Mary: I actually believe that we can agree on something here, so hang with me for a moment.

    First, let me address the facts that you believe I have wrong.

    1. “It is not a mosque, it is a community center.”

    Ok, no problem. I am wrong. As we are on a very fine author’s blog, let me paraphrase the bard. “What’s in a name. That which we call a rose would smell as….” you get the idea. But I’ll happily concede the point.

    2. “It is not ground zero.”

    Sorry. On this one I’m going to have to stand my ground(zero). Trust me, if you had been in that very building when the plane came crashing through the roof, and been lucky enough to survive, it was ground zero to you. To use your own analogy, where in Olympic Park would you have to be for it to count? Sitting on the backpack?

    And while we’re in Olympic Park, and I think you’re stretching pretty far to equate the two, but if you find the thought of radical Christians, (like that God hates fags guy for instance) building a church there offensive, I would totally back you up.

    Now for the biggie, you said, “What you find offensive is the idea of someone gathering with other members of their religion in a place of their choosing.” Nope. Not even close.

    Rather than just thinking I’m an asshat, please just give me the benefit of a doubt for a second.

    I honestly believe that the people behind building the community center are insisting on this location for a reason other than “fullfilling their wish to play basketball, learn accounting, and to cook. Also to pray.”

    They can come do that shit in my driveway if they want to. But them making a big point about doing it where the most radical members of their religion killed a whole shitload of people in the name of their God offends me. And I think they are TRYING to offend me, which just pisses me off.

    Finally, you said “I completely understand why someone like you might find an Islamic community center to be offensive.” What, may I ask do you mean by “someone like you”?

  118. I probably would have said something and then stormed out. When I was younger, I probably would have tried to avoid confrontation. Growing up in a city that is majority Hispanic, I didn’t have problems growing up, but being of Mexican descent, I’ve heard the things people say about us. Now that I’m older, these things bother me more than they used to. I don’t think I could stand by and watch someone be treated like that. I don’t understand that white man thinking he was more American than a Native American. That type of thinking is just bizarre, and I don’t understand why people would think that Muslim or Mexican or whatever isn’t American, but THEY are, being whatever race they are. I wish I could, at least, comprehend what they’re trying to say, but I literally do not understand it at all.

  119. [Deleted — Greg, the one thing you must understand, is that Mary was asked by John to post her thoughts and opinions here on this blog. It’s part of my job as site manager to protect her and anyone from personal attacks.

    Please do not comment again. I asked you once. The next one is going into moderation. KEB]

  120. @125 Billy Quiets

    “Ok, no problem. I am wrong. As we are on a very fine author’s blog, let me paraphrase the bard. “What’s in a name. That which we call a rose would smell as….” you get the idea. But I’ll happily concede the point.”

    (Apologies in advance for some of the words I am about to use. I assure you they are only for the purposes of illustration. Moderators, feel free to delete or edit this if you feel it is appropriate.)

    Nigger. Kike. Wop. Raghead. Gook.

    I mean, what’s the problem? These are all just “other names” and don’t influence the conversation in any way, right?

  121. I’m a little late to this thread, at this point I feel as if all the responses to the above situation have already been mentioned. I think I would go through all sorts of stuttering shock, stare…at that point, my mind goes blank. Would I say something? But my voice might shake, in which case I might not be able to say anything at all…

    Actually, another thought flashed through my mind for a microsecond, but I pushed it aside because I thought it was somehow more “appropriate” to verbally fight back against the injustice. I had thought that maybe it was possible to buy the items for the girl, but wasn’t sure if she would appreciate it. Then when I read Greg’s posts, I was glad that someone else could verbalize an alternative that I could imagine myself executing.

    A question to the moderator: We really aren’t allowed to deviate from the initial question? I found everyone’s back and forth to be extremely illuminating, and made me think a lot about simple, localized actions and what far-reaching consquences they can have. I figured after the first 50 posts or so, everyone will have answered the first question satisfactorily….and then the discussion could grow from there…

  122. Billy Quiets @ 125 —

    You “honestly believe” that certain folks are doing certain things only to offend you and others. They have no other motivation. None.

    And you know this … how?

  123. A question to the moderator: We really aren’t allowed to deviate from the initial question? I found everyone’s back and forth to be extremely illuminating, and made me think a lot about simple, localized actions and what far-reaching consquences they can have. I figured after the first 50 posts or so, everyone will have answered the first question satisfactorily….and then the discussion could grow from there…

    Deviating from the question is fine if it is a natural offshoot but sometimes people insert a strawman or an entirely different conversation in as a way to dodge or derail the original topic.

    @Billy Quiets: Were you in one of the buildings? I wasn’t. I have two friends who were. I’ll be gentler in my responses if you were but otherwise, it doesn’t change my point.

    You are within your right to be offended. To paraphrase Bogart, the fact that your feelings are hurt — which is what offended means — has no cash value. The actor in the bakery was pretending to be offended by the Muslim woman’s garments. If he were real, the sure, he can be offended. What happens in his head is his business. The moment being offended crosses the line into interfering with someone else’s rights it is no longer something that I will support.

    And I think they are TRYING to offend me…
    I think this is ungrounded. But feel free to back it up with documentation other than your own feelings.

    Finally, you said “I completely understand why someone like you might find an Islamic community center to be offensive.” What, may I ask do you mean by “someone like you”?
    I was referring to your statement, “people posting on this topic don’t understand why building a mosque at ground zero might seem insulting and repugnant to a lot of people like myself.” I apologize, to make the reference clearer I should have written, “people like yourself.”

  124. I’m Muslim, so I know what it’s like to be discriminated against, although I don’t wear the hijab. This made my day. Thank you so much for posting this, and thank you to everyone who commented. It really means a lot to me.

  125. How nice that someone (or anyone) thinks that to take control of the victim’s items to be purchased, and put them in their cart and pay for them – all without saying anything to anyone – isn’t all about ‘being a hero’ in one’s one mind. It is. You’d be treating the woman as if she was a child, and needed your ‘mature’ assistance – which I don’t just interpret as patronising, I say straight out is patronising. And, your claim of that being the way to deal with bigotry is laughable, because what happens the next time a clerk says bigoted and/or racist things to someone – when your not in the store to practice your bizarre idea of “It’s-not-about-me-I’m-helping-this-victim-by-taking-control-of-this-situation-and-I-swear-it’s-in-the-victim’s-and-everyone-else’s-best-interest-to-quietly-go- along-with-me.”

    Saying something to the clerk, whether it’s ‘red and foamy’ to an ice-cold “Shut up now and get your manager on the phone immediately” is going to have a bigger impact on the clerk – the person with too much mouth vs. too little brain. Admittedly, saying anything can provoke a bad response from that kind of person, but if everyone said something, even some small, to show they don’t like that behavior, eventually the behavior will decrease in public. Yes, you might create a secret scumbag with even more unhappy personality problems, but equally, you may create a person who keeps their asshole thoughts to themselves. Lastly, who cares if the person who speaks up feels better about themselves for having done so. They should.

  126. It would be profoundly out of my character to do nothing. I talk with strangers over little or nothing, so that is not an impediment.

    So what would I do? Not sure. Probably not the best thing I could do. It really depends on the particular things he was saying at the time. After what I’d originally intend to be a very short time but would likely end up being rather longer, I’d turn and say to the woman something along the lines of, “I know another store around here you can go to that won’t give you trouble.” At least, I would if that was the case. Maybe if it wasn’t.

  127. What would I do?

    I don’t know.

    I think that’s the point of the exercise, isn’t it — to make us think about the situation, ideally before it happens to us. (Or around us. Or in our vicinity.) I think that, good intentions aside, once the moment arrives, we act more on instinct than on prior planning.

    What I cannot fathom is the idea that speaking up in defense of the innocent is somehow wrong. Sure, the asshole on the other side might choose to escalate the confrontation . . . but deciding not to help because of that is not prudence, it is cowardice.

  128. Keep in mind that it’s not too late, afterward, to do something. “Geez, I should have spoken up” – true, but we still can speak up, by calling the store’s manager, posting about it online, writing to the executives of the business explaining why you will be taking your business elsewhere.

  129. Greg – You have officially been placed in the moderation cue for failure to follow my directions. Further comments on ANY threads are now going to be held until John returns on September 13th.

    Any attempt to bypass moderation will result in a permanent ban from this site.

    As a reminder – John has left me in charge here. I will NOT hesitate to repeat this action should anyone else fail to heed my instructions.

  130. Billy Quiets @ 125,

    At the risk of taking the discussion away from its intended destination, I want to explore with you some potential alternatives to allowing the “mosque” to be built so close to ground-zero. Let me know if either of these two alternate approaches reduce your feelings of offense.

    1. Where I live, elementary schools are used on Sundays as churches. There is an elementary school quite close to the WTC site. How about we turn it over to the Islamic faith for prayer services when it’s not otherwise being used?

    2. My (Christian) church gives its facilities over to a local Moslem group each Friday, to be used for prayer. There are several churches in the WTC neighborhood. How about they do the same thing?

    I’m not trolling here. I’ve spent the past couple of hours thinking about ways to reduce “offense” that some people “honestly” feel at the thought of a Islamic community center with prayer services so close to the WTC site.

    To be clear, I completely support the group’s desire to build where it wants to. I think it’s a very slippery slope to start dictating which religious affiliations can build their facilities where–especially because some folks might be “offended”. That slope leads to other, minority, religions having similar limits put on their freedom (Wiccans spring to mind).

    I agree that some limits are appropriate for some groups. (I wouldn’t want NAMBLA to build a meeting hall next to an elementary school, for example.) But using religious affiliation as a means to distinguish who can do what where strikes me as a very bad idea.

    Anyway, Billy, what to you think of my alternates?

    (Apologies to the mod if this post is too far off-topic. If you tell me it is, I’ll drop it.)

  131. Nick @140

    Thank you for the reasoned response and alternative ideas. Let me address them.

    1. I think this is an excellent idea.
    2. Ditto.

    What “offends” me is not the religion, or the prayers, or having both at Ground Zero. It is the fact that the militant wing of the Muslim faith has a history of building monuments to victory at the site of tremendous conquests.

    To Mary @132 and Nick, let me back up my assertion that they are trying to offend me.

    Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf knew exactly what kind of response he would get by advocating the constrution of this center.

    Here is a lengthy excerpt of his justification for Malaysian Muslims protesting against a perceived insult by the Catholic Church.

    “It is true that Allah is the Arabic word for God and that Arab Christians use the word Allah when they refer to God. And yes, it is true that under freedom of speech and freedom of religion one should be able to refer to the supreme deity any way one wants.

    “But among Malays, who are practiacally all Muslims, Allah refers to the Islamic Supreme Being. And the attempt by the (Catholic Monthly) Herald to appropriate the word Allah to refer to the Christian God appeared to some Malays to be seeking to convert them away from their faith.

    “Now pictures of protesting Malays are circulating around the world, and people are wondering why.

    “My message to the Christian Community in Malaysia is that using the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative. If you want to have influence with people in Malaysia, you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response.”

    And yet that is exactly what he is doing here, being “socially provocative.” I think he is a sly and devious character who well knows how the community center will be received by most Americans and more importantly by the militant Muslims throughout the world. They will see it not as a place to play basketball and bake cookies, but rather as a Monument to their greatest strike against the enemies of Islam.

    If they wanted to promote outreach, and build bridges they could do it. Imam Rauf has no problem telling the Catholics, that “under freedom of speecch and freedom of religion” they are “theologically and legally correct.” But he still tells them they are doing the wrong thing. All I’m saying is he should listen to his own advice.

  132. I think it isn’t surprising that most Americans are opposed to a “victory mosque” built “on ground zero” perceived as a triumphal arc by the “Muslim world”

    But, in reality you’ve got a faith based group setting up a community center in downtown manhattan, one of the most densely populated areas in the US. A community center with an Imam who had been tasked to go around the world to discuss and represent moderate Islam since the bush administration.

    People responded viscerally to things that were not true. Leaving their feelings on the subject invalid, as they’re based on constructed facts and contrived situations.

    The argument that is left is how “the terrorists” will see this, so we have “to defend” ground zero. And I’m not sympathetic to that argument. Primarily because I would like to know what block that stops on.

  133. Billy Quiets: A post you see as evidence of a sly and devious nature seems to me to be entirely well-reasoned. I would argue that Imam Rauf has listened to his own advice, which is why he changed the name of the community center when it became clear that some people found it problematic.

    I almost decided that this meant that we were on such different wavelengths that I should stop discussing this with you, but there’s a statement you assert as a fact that I do not want to let stand.

    It is the fact that the militant wing of the Muslim faith has a history of building monuments to victory at the site of tremendous conquests.
    You know, I had to stop and look this up. Googling “victory monument” got me mostly Rush Limbaugh. I eventually found a scholarly paper on “Monuments of War and Victory in Medieval and Islamic Art”, a comparison of the use of bone powder in Muslim, Greco-Latin, Celtic and Christian monuments, and a WWI monument. Switching search terms I found the Al-Shaheed Monument (stunningly beautiful) to the martyrs in the Iran-Iraq war and a report on the monuments of Baghdad.

    In short, I found monuments erected by governments to commemorate those who had died in battle, much the same way our own government does. They all looked like monuments.

    None of them looked like a community center.

    Wherever this “fact” came from, the actual Islamic war monuments appear to be no more shocking than any other war monument.

  134. This is a response, not specifically to Greg or Billybob or others who seem to think that directly confronting bigotry is bad, bad, bad, but more to Greg’s effort to appropriate the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to back up his point. I’m always incensed to see MLK taken out of context — so, relevant to the context we’re discussing (confronting bigotry, not war between sovereign nations), allow me to quote King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

    I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence.

  135. And thank you, KateH, for pointing out what should be obvious — that “helping” the woman by patronizing and infantilizing her isn’t help at all. I’m continually astounded by how often I see people condemn Islam for (some sects’) opressing women… then those same people turn around and say or do things that are even more insulting to, patronizing of, and damaging to women.

  136. Mary, I also found the Imam’s post on Malaysia to be entirely well-reasoned. Extraordinarily well-reasoned and inciteful. That is exactly my point.

    Why continue an action that self-evidently belies your proposed mission of bringing faiths together. Changing the name of the center does not change the purpose of the center, or how it will be percieved.

    I don’t think we are far apart at all on the core issues involved here. Freedom of religion, tolerance, acceptance of others’ beliefs. It’s just that I question the Imam’s motives, and you question mine. Maybe I am wrong about his and you are wrong about mine. Actions speak louder than words. We’ll see.

    As far as militant Muslims building monuments on the sites of famous conquests, I will find you a couple of examples.

    N.K. I’m glad your response was not directed at me, or some other silly cracker named Billybob, as I have already stated that I would directly oppose bigotry in the example that started this thread.

    And I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that I think Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was one of the finest illustrations of the struggle to achieve change through non-violent protest in the history of the world.

  137. As to those who find an Islamic building – of any kind or name – an ‘insult’ to themselves or anyone else, be they relatives and friends of victims of 9/11 or any other person on the planet, I wonder why they aren’t offended – or at least aren’t opening their months to assert it – by any other use of buildings even closer to the WTC which they think is such sacred ground. How about the vendors of counterfeit and pirated merchandise, the off-track betting shops, and let’s not forget the many places and people selling porn and sex. Commerce is king, even when it’s sleazy and illegal, but anyone who doesn’t practice the ‘right’ religion needs to be run off the premises? Oh, but I keep forgetting how capitolism/entrepreneurship is blessed over everything else, and if one disagrees, they must not be a “real ‘merican.”

  138. Changing the name of the center does not change the purpose of the center, or how it will be percieved.

    Bolded because the use of the passive voice is illustrative. “Will be perceived” by whom?

    I think the answer to the question is obvious, but as is so often the case, the passive voice is the English language’s equivalent of the magician getting you to look at the hat instead of spotting where the rabbit went.

  139. Hey, I misspelled perceived. Dammit! That’s more like the magician dropping the hat.

  140. Based on a visit last month, I suspect strongly that most New Yorkers recognize that they live in one of the most heterogeneous cities in the world, one where hundreds of cultures and faiths rub elbows on a daily basis, and that this cultural center is merely one more tile in that mosaic.

    I also suspect that many of them would be very happy to have the national media leave them the hell alone to heal for a while, rather than run around ripping off bandages at the merest provocation.

    And I can think of no better symbol of how UNshaken we are as a country and a people than by saying, “Yes, we embrace those Muslims who embrace peace, and we welcome their cultural centers and their mosques, just as we welcomed European Jews in the 20th century, Irish Catholics in the 19th century, and–”

    Oh. I think I may have just hit the problem on the head.

  141. OtherBill and Billy Quiets (yeah, we got too many Wills here),

    Like I said, the MLK quote wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but at a debate tactic in general. MLK said lots of good stuff that’s of use in discussing this scenario or any other case of social justice. So there’s really no need to repurpose stuff he said about completely different topics (e.g., war).

    But in response to your last comment, Billy Quiets — not refuting so much as emphasizing a nuance. It’s worth noting that King’s non-violence included a willingness to be on the receiving end of violence. Avoiding violence in and of itself is not enough (as King noted in that letter) to stop bigotry. One must also be willing to endure personal risk. That risk doesn’t have to take the form of violence; it can include risking one’s job, one’s social standing, money, etc. But the risk is necessary, because that’s what changes the non-violent act from passive endurance into active resistance. It means you’re fighting back, even if you’re not fighting physically. It shows the system’s defenders just how serious you are about changing things. Ultimately, as I said waaay upthread, it comes down to whether one is willing to walk the walk or just talk the talk.

    When I was in college, I participated in anti-Apartheid sit-ins and protests, and was scared sh*tless that the cops would come beat the crap out of me (a very real danger in New Orleans at the time, with its famously corrupt police force). I told myself that it was no worse than what my parents had to endure, though — dogs, fire hoses, beatings, etc. — and did it anyway. My group did a training on how to respond to various kinds of attacks, which I’ll never forget. If batons are used, curl up and cover the head. If kicked, get up and run (because kickers tend to target the head and abdomen, which can cause death). And so on. Nothing happened, thank God, and we were successful in getting the university to divest its stock holdings in South Africa. But hooooly crap that was scary.

    Nowadays my activism is less physically dangerous; among other things, I speak out against racism and sexism in the SF/F world. But there’s still some risk involved, because I’m a writer trying to make a living in that world. The danger of retaliation, or making enemies who can damage my career, or whatever, is omnipresent. But what else can I do? I’m female and black in a genre where people still openly question whether I even exist. (Or whether I should.) The way I see it, if I want the genre to change, I have to change it. If that means risking my career, so be it.

    But in addition to big, career-suicide-risking gestures, I also have to be willing to fight the small battles. Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not; sometimes I’m just tired and don’t have the energy to muster for a fight. (Case in point, my comments-off post on the Park 51 controversy.) But when I do have the energy, I try to do the “little things”. I say “me, too” when I see other people take a stand. I say “f*ck you” when I see people like this clerk being bastards for real. None of this matters in the grand scale of things. None of these situations are worth my life, career, etc. But it’s worth it to me that I live my own principles on a daily basis — not just when it matters, but when it (apparently) doesn’t.

    So seriously, I do understand when people say they aren’t sure how they’d react to the situation in the OP. I really do get it. Everyone has to decide for themselves how much they’re willing to risk, and there’s no shame in deciding that a given situation isn’t worth it. But let’s not lie to ourselves here. The real question that’s being asked by this thought experiment isn’t “what would you do”, but really “how serious are you about that whole ‘I’m opposed to bigotry’ thing?”

    Gah, crap, soapboxing. Didn’t mean to do that.

  142. N.K. Jemisin: (I’ve got a couple “you” “your” “yourself” here. Read as one or ones self, please. Not everything is easier with an iPhone)

    “Like I said, the MLK quote wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but at a debate tactic in general. MLK said lots of good stuff…So there’s really no need to repurpose stuff he said about completely different topics (e.g., war).”

    Agreed. With the caveat that I think I understand the point Greg was trying to make with it.

    “My group did a training on how to respond to various kinds of attacks, which I’ll never forget.”

    Regarding this, and the mention of of other threats of violence that you endured to stand up.

    What I was getting was that activism can be dangerous. And, as you say and have done, training is important. I am separating the office place bigotry (which I think people see regularly) because standing up verbally is worthwhile and in all likelihood not physically dangerous.

    But, situations where you don’t know the people and someone is being can become dangerous. This, still, is a level different in most cases from the kinds of things one can encounter in demonstrations.

    I saw people in the thread saying how some strong language can wake people up, make a point and should warrant no apology. And with the hypothetical, it led me to say, be aware that some people can be dangerous. Know the extent to which you could be getting involved with strong language.

    “Be aware” is a different thing to say than “don’t do this”. I’m not (and I recognize that this may not be in question) saying I support your cause, but question the methods. I’m saying, I support it, but don’t kid yourself about what kind of situation that could put you in.

    “The danger of retaliation, or making enemies who can damage my career, or whatever, is omnipresent.”

    A writer, with an opinion and a voice to say it with? My goodness, it’s shocking that this surprises people. Fuck people who don’t get that. Also, the realness of that sucks, and in my own way I get that.

    “But it’s worth it to me that I live my own principles on a daily basis — not just when it matters, but when it (apparently) doesn’t.”

    that’s how I try to live my life, too. It’s a process, as they say.

    “The real question that’s being asked by this thought experiment isn’t “what would you do”, but really “how serious are you about that whole ‘I’m opposed to bigotry’ thing?””

    That’s largely the way I started to interpret the hypothetical as well. Which led to, you know, not kidding ones self about how serious it can get in a heart beat.

    I taught self defense for awhile. And, the thing that always worried me was that someone just starting out would feel more confidence than their skill level merited and would then make poor judgments in tense situations.

    America is a place where highschool students can stomp on a man’s head until his brains leak out when bullying turned into manslaughter. And the publics response to the story is a meh, bad things happen.

    Given that we were having a conversation on the subject, I thought it would be a worthwhile reminder to everyone involved. Activism is a thinking game. Action comes from considered thought and calculated risk taking. Going aggro isn’t always the smartest choice to be an activist.

    People toss in to this type of discussion the notion that all evil needs is for good people to be silent. But, the situations that this notion refers to is not your office place bigotry. Stand up for yourselves and others and fight workplace bigotry. But that reference is about armies rounding up entire ethnic groups for genocide. That’s strong rhetorical fire power for getting people to standup to bigoted language in the workplace. I think it’s relevant, but people should also be reminded that the good people in those very serious situations saying something got dead. The directive, don’t ever say nothing could put a person in a dangerous situation without them having considered what to do in that spot at all. And I think from the video, an angry store clerk could transition to, say, an angry station attendant with a baseball bat. What do you do then?

    Shorter, be aware of the risks you are taking. Take them where it makes sense and is a worthwhile to your goals. Keep your head in a tense situation. Keep the strong language, lose the red haze.

    Fight the fight. But, fight your fight.

  143. I don’t know how I would react, had I been one of the other customers. I know what I would want myself to do, however.

    Loudly say “Put your things in my basket, I’ll get them through for you”, then pick up a phone and call the owner, saying that one of his employees is discriminating customers based on their religion.

    What I probably would have done is one of “nothing” or “walk up to the cashier and call him a bigoted fuck-face and put the woman’s things through RIGHT NOW.”

    What it would be would depend heavily on things like how tired I was, how life in general was treating me, if I’d had had a good last few days at work or not, how my cats and dog were doing. Situational, as it were.

    Most of the times, if I see a few people scrapping on trains, buses or similar, I will try my best to defuse the situation. So far, I have neither been hurt nor killed doing that. I don’t see a big problem extending that from physical to mental harm, but I am not quite as clear-cut how far the relevant legal space would cover my actions.

  144. nkjemisin “then those same people turn around and say or do things that are even more insulting to, patronizing of, and damaging to women.”

    (Read both paragraphs before responding, all. OK? Not directed at any one person.)

    I hope that Greg’s proposed solution of helping this woman get her stuff does not qualify as more damaging than the clerk’s behavior. It is not infantilizing to recognize that some external factor has rendered one unable to proceed, and aiding one around it.

    Now, I agree, it would be far better to ask, and I would hope that in the actual moment he would; that he described not doing this in this discussion was, in my reading, an exaggeration to make a point about how one can avoid confronting, yet still offering aid.

    Not confronting in this case, because this store clerk looked unhinged, and by that fact quite dangerous. He scared me, and not in an abstract sociological way.

    “One must also be willing to endure personal risk.”

    And Greg’s point was (speaking of not making choices for people), that by escalating this situation, one is making the choice to endure personal risk for her. Oops?

  145. It is sad, same as when 9/11 happened and a vast amount of Muslims were like the 22…..

  146. Luke @ 156,

    Yes, it’s just as damaging to treat a human being as though she is incapable of acting on her own, making a choice, taking a stand, etc. The woman’s self-esteem would take a hit either way — whether from the person who tells her that she’s subhuman, or from the person who shows her the same thing. It’s possible to help another person without being a patronizing ass about it. Greg’s suggestion did not cover this.

    Greg’s suggestion sounded to me like misplaced, mishandled chivalry — misplaced because a) the point of the confrontation between the clerk and the woman wasn’t that she wanted to buy things. If that was all she wanted, she could’ve quietly ignored the clerk’s behavior and gone elsewhere (if it was a real scenario). The reason she yelled back was because she wanted the clerk to show her the same courtesy as he did everybody else. Buying the items for her does not solve that problem.

    It’s also misplaced because b) the point of Greg’s gesture wouldn’t be to show politeness to a lady, but to stick it to the clerk by using the lady as a prop. Kind of misses the point of chivalry, in that case.

    And I say it’s mishandled because any gesture of chivalry (per my old-school Southern father’s upbringing) should include the basic courtesy of a greeting or some exchanged words. By not speaking to her, Greg would actually be compounding the rudeness she’d already experienced, by making it clear she’s not even worthy of a “hello”. So she’s screwed either way — she can’t get basic courtesy from the clerk, or from the people ostensibly on her side.

    I will backhandedly agree with one of Greg’s points, which is that Westerners — especially us Americans — often have a “hero complex” that gets them into trouble. One of the ways this manifests is that it causes them to be inadvertently obnoxious when they actually mean well. The thing is, you can’t solve other people’s problems for them. You don’t actually know what they want or need — not without asking them, and listening to what they say. But it’s a culturally-ingrained habit for Westerners to assume that their own moral compass is the only one that matters, no matter if it causes them to run roughshod over another person’s agency or self-respect. (Maybe all cultures do this to some degree, but the West’s history is littered with examples of interference with other cultures for the patronizing purpose of “helping” them unasked, usually with disastrous consequences for the help-ees.) We especially tend to make this mistake with people deemed “inferior” by our cultural zeitgeist. Children. Grown women. Poor people. People from “Third World” nations, or cultures we deem “primitive”. Etc.

    And think about the message it would send to everyone in that bakery, for Greg to silently take the woman’s basket and buy the stuff for her. They wouldn’t see the woman as an active participant in her own defense (to be allied with or against). Instead she would become a passive object, something to be “taken care of”, a pawn in a struggle between Greg and the clerk. Does it really help her, in the end, if all the people in that bakery leave with the idea in their heads that Muslim women are meek and passive and must be protected — from themselves if no one else? Seems to me this kind of thinking is behind policies like this which aim to prevent women from being forced to veil… by forcing them to unveil.

    I’m not sure I understand your last line. By “for her” do you mean “on her behalf”/in her place? (Not a guarantee, BTW; if the clerk had gotten violent, he probably would’ve attacked both the woman and any allies who spoke up.) Or do you just mean “her” in general — i.e., making the choice to act for this woman, in this moment, as you would for any woman in any similar circumstance? I meant the latter; I think you’re implying the former. But before I respond I’d like clarification.

  147. I would like to think that I would react as well as that last man. He is a great example to emulate. But I agree with a couple of the early posters. It is hard to really know what we would do under those circumstances, and the craziness evidenced by the clerk might well give me pause.

  148. By my last line, I meant that anyone escalating the confrontation could in doing so make the clerk become violent. The woman had up to that point managed to avoid violence, and it was not clear how much escalation she was comfortable with. If you go beyond her line while jumping into her fight, then you’re putting her at a risk she didn’t sign up for. Thereby making that choice for her, in the objectionable ‘denying her her agency’ sense.


    As for the misplaced chivalry being just as bad…

    — Hypothetically, if a guy offers this option to her, is that totally acceptable and a good thing to do?

    — Back to the involuntary version.
    I did say ‘not worse’, and you pegged the two as the same, so I guess we kind of agree. Still, I have a hard time seeing it as equivalent to all the crap the clerk was spewing at her.

    (Note that while I will defend the action briefly, I agree with you that it isn’t good, just is not as bad) First off, getting insane people to do things for you is not exactly a matter of your personal prowess, is it? It really is more about the clerk than the woman. He’s nuts; she is, at least in this context, ordinary.
    Secondly, she’d be free to continue the argument or not once she had been effectively served, but she could have that argument with her gallon of 2% (or whatever) in hand. All that would change is the topicality. And she’d have been handed a weapon (apparent acceptance of other customers), which she could choose to use or not as she continued to argue.


    Lastly, I’d like to point out two more natural readings of that action, if it were to actually occur, from the point of view of observers such as the woman in question. Greg contradicted these motivations through his analysis, but if one were in the situation, that reasoning would not be available. And I think they are more natural – that if I were in the situation of the woman after this was done to me, I’d suspect both before I’d think of being considered infantilized. While that is quite likely white guy privilege talking, I’d like to hear what your take on it is, coming from the position of having more of a clue of what this would be like first hand (a rather context-specific ‘privilege’ I suspect you’d rather do without).

    The first such reading is that this white guy annulled the argument without asking because he just wanted to get done with the store, and the clerk and muslim customer were both getting in his way. Callous, rude, not chivalry, and though insulting, insulting in a very different and less core-affecting way. And also understandable, if again not right. After all, there was a rather long line on several occasions.

    The second reading would be that he thought that things were getting out of hand and he couldn’t stand by while she (in his estimation) riled the clerk up past reason and put them all in danger, including him; and if he thought trying to convince her to stop would just accomplish the same bad end by angering the clerk.
    Yes, it means he’s putting his judgement above hers, but he’s doing it in a context in which that is natural – his own safety. Just as his judgement doesn’t trump hers on her issues, she doesn’t get to trump his on his issues.
    Taking offense at this would be natural, of course; but again, it would not be nearly as core an offense.

  149. Billy Quiets said: I don’t think we are far apart at all on the core issues involved here. Freedom of religion, tolerance, acceptance of others’ beliefs. It’s just that I question the Imam’s motives, and you question mine. Maybe I am wrong about his and you are wrong about mine. Actions speak louder than words.

    I think we agree on what the words of the core issues are but I don’t think we agree on what they all mean.

    Freedom of religion – the right esp. as guaranteed under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to practice one’s religion or exercise one’s beliefs without intervention by the government and to be free of the exercise of authority by a church through the government

    Fair enough. We probably agree on that.

    Tolerance – “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own” it can also mean “the act or capacity of enduring.”

    I don’t, personally, find it fair or objective to use words like “repugnant” when describing the act of building a community center no matter where the location.

    Even if one can’t cleave to fair, objective and permissive, someone who truly believes in tolerance would at least endure such a thing. Your words are more than words. The act of voicing them is just that, an action, which which gives weight and credence to people who would lump all Muslims together. It is not tolerant.

    acceptance of others’ beliefs — This is almost synonymous with tolerance but is generally more positive. I’ll let folks who care about definitions look at that one.

    My point here is that I believe that you care about these things as ideals but your actual practices work against what your stated beliefs are.

    Billy Quiets said As far as militant Muslims building monuments on the sites of famous conquests, I will find you a couple of examples.
    That’s not necessary. Everyone builds monuments at the site of famous conquests. I know what monuments look like. My point, which you seem to be missing, is that a monument is not the same thing as a community center, which is also different from a mosque.

    If you find a history of militant Muslims getting other people to build community centers as a celebration of a conquest site then you might have something we can talk about. I don’t think you will because it doesn’t happen nor is it happening now.

  150. I’m also going to chime in here to agree with Nora that having someone take something out of my hands, without speaking to me, would be absolutely infantalizing and is maddening pretty much every time it happens. (I toured for a living. Pretty girl carrying set pieces = large men trying to “help” me with it. But that’s another story.)

    With that in mind, I wonder if the courteous thing to do is to ask the person being verbally abused if she needs assistance before stepping in. Granted, not every situation will allow that, but I’m looking at the bakery scenario.

  151. Mary,

    You say to me, “Your words are more than words. The act of voicing them is just that, an action, which gives weight and credence to people who would lump all Muslims together. It is not tolerant.”

    I say my words are Freedom of Speech. Just as important as Freedom of Religion.

    You are doing EXACTLY what you are accusing me of doing.

    You have LABELED ME INTOLERANT because I object to the actions of one small group of Muslims.

    Do you even know that there are MANY Muslims who have said that this center is a bad idea? One group of Canadian Muslims sent an open letter to the Imam asking that this thing not be built because it would offend so many people. Are they intolerant?

    I am intolerant? Where is YOUR “fair and objective, permissive attitude toward those whose opinions differ from yours?”

    I quote Shakespeare to make my point and the very next post spouts profanity to counter it. Yet I am the bigot. Who on this site stood up for my unpopular opinion with the same vehemence they stand up for the Imam’s?

    You asked for a specific example of why I thought the Imam was trying to offend me.

    I went to the trouble of searching out something I had read a month ago and posted it. Do I get credit for a reasoned opinion. No, I get labeled.

    I am NOT intolerant.

    The “action” of voicing my opinion in a reasoned and thoughtful way does not make me intolerant. It makes me a reasonable and thoughtful person with the same rights to voice his opinion as anyone else who happens to disagree with you.

  152. I say my words are Freedom of Speech.

    “Freedom of Speech”, in the United States, means that the government cannot prohibit certain kinds of speech. It doesn’t mean that you are immune from criticism or that nobody is allowed to say mean things back. FYI.

  153. Billy Quiets @ 163,

    I haven’t followed your arguments, mostly because I’ve heard the same thing over and over again from opponents of Park 51, and you’re not saying anything new.

    But as I’ve pointed out to others, “freedom of speech” is irrelevant to your opposition to Park 51. Freedom of speech refers to your right to not be censored or restricted by the government. The government isn’t keeping you from insisting that Park 51 shouldn’t be built because “some people don’t like it” (which is really all your argument amounts to, as far as I can tell). The government isn’t stopping you from ignoring the very logical counterarguments being made by various folks here — such as the fact that “some people are perfectly OK with it”. And the government isn’t making you go “I know you are but what am I” in response to being called intolerant. That’s all you.

    So this has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has everything to do with you doing a poor job of presenting and defending your opinion, and you getting pissed off when you’re called on it, and starting to act like an ass.

    I haven’t played moderator in this discussion because it’s Mary’s game and Kate’s referreeing. But I will point out that this is in fact a private blog, not “the government”, and you might want to read up on what rules do apply here. And maybe back off from the personal attacks and obnoxiousness? Pretty please? Because none of us wants Kate to break out the hammer.

  154. Billy Quiets: Mythago and Nora beat me to the punch on freedom of speech. Also, ditto everything Nora said in response.

    Up to this point you’ve been reasonable, wrong, but reasonable. Now, you need to back away from the keyboard or I’ll ask Kate to put you on moderation to give you time to calm down.

    Just to be clear, this isn’t because you are disagreeing with me, it’s because you are angry and illogical right now.

  155. The “I have the first amendment rights too” argument is disconcerting. “You must respect everything I say because of the first amendment” is fairly insidious.

    It takes away the responsibility for fact based logical argument in order to be taken seriously. I think it’s part of the “education is for elitists” meme and is openly pandering to people who think national policy should be made on gut intuition and three or four molsons.

    I think it represents the concerted effort of a few to kill the respectability of facts in debate. I can now say anything I want, and you must take it seriously because, like, I think it man.

    It doesn’t matter that most of the things that originally riled up public disapproval turned out to be false. Because this is what we think now.

    Pointing out that certain assumptions are proveably false leads to the argument that, yeah maybe, but I can hear the gloating code words directed at me and mine in the Imam’s words.

    I know I know. Freedom of speech protects you from the government not from people calling shenanigans on flaming bullshit.

  156. Billy Quiets: As per Mary, I think it’s time to back away from the keyboard. If you fail to heed instruction, I will as Mary said, put you into moderation.

  157. Giant sigh….

    Deep breathing….

    Urge to defend myself in the strongest possible way……fading.

    Yes, the feeling of being labeled makes me angry. I think we all feel the same way.

    Angry, yes. Angry enough to bolt down three or four Molsons, Other Bill, not so much. LaBatt’s Blue, mmm possibly.

    Illogical, I don’t think so. But, OK. This is a private blog. I am a guest. I certainly don’t want to be a lousy guest, or God forbid, an ass.

    I’ll back away from the keyboard, and even the mouse.

  158. (Same caveat as last time)

    MRK @ 162: “I toured for a living. Pretty girl carrying set pieces = large men trying to “help” me with it. But that’s another story.”

    Yes. Yes it is. Because you have muscles, and set pieces are there to be moved by people. You can move it, you are moving it.

    Unhinged clerk is deaf to argument. She can’t change his mind. This fact doesn’t reflect on her abilities at all, because the failure lies entirely in him.


    As a little aside concerning escalation, a few events that occurred to me today on the train.

    I’m boarding the train behind a woman and a man. The woman, out of nowhere, declares, “She’s such a SLUT! Dressed like THAT. What a SLUT!”

    As you might have figured from the emphasis, she was extremely loud. Startled, I let out, “What.” Just the one word, in reaction to a totally unexpected outburst; and, though clearly audible, not exactly loud.

    She turned and snarled venomously, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

    I kept my mouth shut. Twenty minutes later, as they’re walking off the train, the guy sticks his hand in my face (not quite making contact) and warns me in some short but dire terms to mind my own business.

    So, one word — a conversational null at that — led to simple assault.

  159. @15 beowuff No that doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just a lack of familiarity. I grew up in a Muslim family my Aunt adorned herself with the burqa in public. But I still knew that it was my Aunt by her voice, her eyes even her gait. Of course you can argue that “Well that’s your Aunt of course you would be able to tell it was her, what about a perfect stranger?” Even in that case you would be able to tell what kind of person your dealing with. Many women who make use of the burqa like to change things up and shun the traditional all black garb. Tailored made coverings in all kinds of colors and patterns are available allowing them to accessorize, further expressing their personality.

    And as far as forcing anyone to cover up especially in western society, is impossible as it never works. They may leave their house wearing a burqa or scarf but once they reach their destination it will come off. Also it is encouraged for all Men and Women to seek knowledge. Meaning they need to learn about their religion through their own efforts and then make up their own mind. This gives rise to varying degrees of piety. Usually the more pious or God-conscious a person is the more modest they are. Hope that shed some light on the issue.

    And on a personal note As a Muslim I am so grateful to have people who approach us with compassion and take time to get to know us as individuals. It reminds us all that we belong to the family of Man.

  160. Mary Robinette Kowal@162:

    With that in mind, I wonder if the courteous thing to do is to ask the person being verbally abused if she needs assistance before stepping in.

    Quite possibly — but in the heat of the moment, I don’t think my reaction would be entirely chivalrous (as you say, it’s patronising and no less so if unintended), but also a heavy element of “WTF? I’m not cool with this #@$!, so cut it out”.

  161. N. K. Jemisinon 30 Aug 2010 at 7:07 pm

    And thank you, KateH, for pointing out what should be obvious — that “helping” the woman by patronizing and infantilizing her isn’t help at all. I’m continually astounded by how often I see people condemn Islam for (some sects’) opressing women… then those same people turn around and say or do things that are even more insulting to, patronizing of, and damaging to women.

    You quite right, and I was raised by strong wonderful women who could ride their own white horses — and kick arse — without a man-splaining assist from me, no thank you very much. :)

    But in this specific case, I would speak up for exactly the same reason I would if the person being verbally abused was a Muslim man. It’s the racism being displayed by the perpetrator, not the gender of the victim, I find so deeply objectionable.

    And here’s why: Just because I look quote unquote “white”, I’m still of mixed race descent. I’m also of Irish Catholic descent, and a big part of my family history is the memory of people who were savagely beaten – or worse – for no other reason than their religion. In a very real sense, racism and religious bigotry isn’t someone else’s problem for me. It’s mine too, and I’m very sorry if not letting it pass would ever be read as coming from a place of racist or sexist privilege.

  162. Ravi – that makes me think of what maybe I really [i]ought[/i] to do in this case, which I thought of last night in the park. Maybe it’s a horrible idea and you all can tell me why.

    I’d graciously seek to speak with the woman, and provided that she is okay with an aside, introduce myself and ask her name, ask a few questions, answer hers, let her put herself out there.

    First idea is, I’m demonstrating cordiality to the woman so she can have a little support, and secondly to the clerk, showing him that I don’t need his stinking protection.

    And if the clerk can begin thinking of her as a person instead of as an orc, he’ll have taken a step to getting over his problem.

    Of course, it could backfire if she thinks I’m interrogating her. Could all be in the delivery.

  163. @Luke That’s not a bad idea. Yes its all in the delivery and also by how its received. Its quite possible that the woman might find it unacceptable to speak with a stranger. Others might appreciate the opportunity to express themselves and the sign of support. Again it all depends on the person.

    Anything we can do to humanize the so called “enemy” will definitely help people overcome unfounded fears. If you have time check out CBC’s Little Mosque on The Prairie It’s a sitcom about a small Muslim community living in a Canadian prairie town and shows what “really” goes on in a Mosque.

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