Monday, September 26, 2011

On race and religion

For the first time in a while, I encountered and was incredibly enraged by a racist person tonight.

I don't know if he would describe himself as such, since he was of obviously foreign descent and maybe only yells racial slurs at people he deems to be harmless, in places where he feels safe and justified in his irrational anger.

But how you act and what you say when you're upset is the most telling of one's character and so to me, he is -- to the core -- racist.

Situation: I pulled out of the library and made a sharp left turn on to a local road. It was close and I probably could have waited for his car to pass, but there was still an ample amount of space left between our cars. Suddenly, he zooms up and drives in the opposite lane in order to move in front of me and stops his car (a Mercedes, no less). I give him a long beep from my horn. Instead of continuing forward, he gets out, slams his door, and stalks over to my window. Before I can even lower it, he's fuming.

"I have a 9-month pregnant woman in the car! What the fuck do you think you're doing?! Do you know what you could have done? You people.. you people are fucking insane!"

Ah, "you people." He was clearly delighted that not only could he swing his big metaphorical dick around by posing as this lady's knight in cotton-clad armor, but also that he'd be able to pepper his rant with illogical asides meant to offend my ethnic self.

"If you have a 9-month pregnant person in your car, shouldn't you get going instead of stopping in the middle of a road and coming over to talk to me?" I reply.

He catches himself. Wait, I speak English? Without an accent? And articulate myself better than him?

"Yes, I'm going but I could SUE YOUR ASS. You're lucky I don't call the cops right now because what you did, they would give you BIG TICKET. BIG TICKET!"

He then says some other variations of suing me in increasingly nonsensical terms, because you can apparently sue people now based on hypothetical scenarios where an accident COULD have happened and in which there were no other witnesses present to verify either side's account. In short, he's trying to intimidate me with empty threats.

Blink, blink. "Okay," I say.

I tell him we would not have gotten into an accident. He yells at me some more. I stare. He's almost done with his tirade. Oh, but of course he can't just walk away. No, his inflated sense of self-worth and manhood won't allow him to silently retreat. As he turns from my window, he releases one last blow, a vain attempt to lace his argument with provocation. The one I'd been anticipating, but hoping he wouldn't be so base enough to say: "I see where I'm going, because I don't have small eyesack like you."

That's when I lose it.

I scream. I lean my head out the window, cursing at his back. He doesn't turn around. He has been spewing hateful bullshit at me for the past two minutes, but can't even give that final slight to my face.

He gets in his car and I want to crash into it so badly, want to reach inside and drive my fist to his mouth. Do anything to get the sure-to-be-smug expression off that coward's face. Instead, I speed past him and take deep breaths, try to tell myself that I'm better than that, better than profane thoughts and ad hominem attacks.

But I'm not.

I spend the next ten minutes speeding down the highway, driving the same route twice because I don't know where I'm going, I can't think about anything else except how senseless and stupid everyone is. When the only thing they have left in their arsenal to support a floundering argument is a desperate jab at someone's appearance. Real classy stuff.

I'm not going to lie -- I've made sweeping racial generalizations and said impulsive, superficial comments about people to hit them hard. It's easy. It rolls off the tongue. Anyone can look at someone and say the first judgmental thing that comes to mind. Especially when you're angry and especially when you can later attribute such casual cruelty to "the heat of the moment." That's not really who I am, you say. That person had it coming, others tell you.

Who's going to stop this cycle of hatred, then? If the users continue using it and the victims retaliate by lashing out at the user and to future offenders too, how does any sort of acceptance occur? Let alone, dare I say it, love? Speaking as a Christian, one of the hardest things to follow and implement is the commandment to love your enemies. Loving people who love you is expected. Enemies are different -- they should be crushed. Primally, it's self-preservation and logically, it's only fair. An eye for an eye is justice in its purest form.

Jesus didn't preach justice, though. He preached mercy and compassion. He preached forgiveness. The man who endured not only verbal spite but also repeated physical violence that culminated in his hanging above a jeering crowd for three days -- that man went to his death asking for God to forgive the very people who hammered the nails into his bloodied limbs. How can anyone do that? It's completely irrational. Out of his mind, some would say. Our culture thrives on comeuppance, on perpetrators getting what they deserve. When the underdog shoots the fatal bullet at his foe, we cheer him on and celebrate his rightful vengeance.

But that's why Christianity is different. That's why it's irrational. That's why it doesn't make sense in society. And that's why it takes a great leap of faith to believe it's true, and your efforts to make peace and reconciliation aren't for nothing. It accepts hypocrites like me who have been negatively affected by others (as you can clearly tell by the bitter tone of this entry) and impresses upon us to stop and reconsider what we think and ultimately say.

So at the very least, I forgive this man and the other racists that I'm bound to come across both personally and through other people. I ask for forgiveness for my own bubbling loathing of him and hope that I can reach a point where I won't have to exercise restraint on my hostility and can be naturally imperturbable. (Unlikely, but who knows?) And I pray to not be tempted into acting the same way he did to either stranger or friend. Whether you're a believer or not, I think we can all agree that racism is divisive and unproductive, and reveals the inhumanity of those who enable it. Trust me, racists don't need our help in looking utterly ridiculous when they do such a standup job of it themselves.


  1. "When the underdog shoots the fatal bullet at his foe, we cheer him on and celebrate his rightful vengeance."

    how true! and the only way to stay calm and wise when provoked is only with the power of God, impossible with our own strength.

  2. yes, impossible by ourselves indeed! unless you're part of the royal guard. and the feeling is quite mutual elizabeth lee :)

  3. I could feel your passion in this post. It was great.