Regarding Intent and Behavior

Originally Posted 8/14/16

I had a biracial Lyft driver one time state that he didn’t think Donald Trump was racist, just that he was stupid. I gently pointed out that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. There was a tone of slow realization in his voice as we continued talking, as if he had never considered that possibility before.

I point out that he was biracial because his white father is going to vote for Trump while my driver supported Sanders. Neither one sounded particularly politically motivated or aware, just went on gut feelings. I think the son, my driver, was looking for a way to reconcile his father’s past actions -being married to a black woman and/or latina at one point- with his present decision to support Trump.

This exchange happened during the RNC and it’s stuck with me. A lot of people excuse racist, sexist, homophobic and other prejudicial behavior under the guise of the action just being “stupid”. Intent is paramount if you want to label it racist (et al) and behavior, for whatever reason, is exempt.

That’s not how it works though. For whatever reason, we’ve reserved these terms for those with overt intent. The monsters. Those that live these views to the extreme. Those with white sheets and protest signs and violent hearts. Never for us though. We are kind. We didn’t mean it like that. We aren’t like those people. We’re just saying…

The fear of being called one of these terms always trumps the will to correct the behavior.

And this idea, this unwillingness to face the issue as it stands and rather just sugarcoat it so it’ll pass, seeps into other aspects of life. He’s not abusive, she’s not an addict, they aren’t a molester - all because these traits can be balanced against their better behavior. But as anyone on the receiving end of these more universal actions can tell you, that’s just not true.

Good and bad coexist and we have to allow for that complexity in our existence. In the same way that diseases aren’t properly treated until they are named, we can’t ignore the power of that bad name for the sake of our egos. That musician* can make music you love and be a child molester. Jeffree Star can be an androgynous icon in the LGBT community that makes good makeup and is a racist. Cosby can be an important influence for the perception of black community in our culture and a rapist. I can write this essay and have said transphobic things in the past. You only shed these unwanted titles (if they can be shed at all) with years of work, a truly apologetic nature and changed behavior, not because you simply don’t want the burden of it.

This attempt to “other” our worse behavior does nothing to solve it.

[*I was going to point out one musician but then immediately thought of five more, so fill in your own]