When Good People Are Silent

Trigger Warning // Racism

I have some people in a Facebook group who I befriended over D&D. This was just after the current POTUS was elected. We have all met and eaten together and exchanged gifts and so on. We all get along relatively well and have a lot of jokes we pass around.

Our jokes are pretty sarcastic and somewhat dark. However, on the subject in group chat of the POTUS, I had some rather strong sentiments. 

A reminder of what I look like.

I was asked via direct message to kindly leave those sentiments out of the group chat out of concern for people feeling attacked or alienated for the views they have since one of our group members was a supporter of 45.

In terms of the group dynamic, I was the only black guy in the group. Everyone else is white. This will make zero sense to you without that knowledge.

I took the concern to heart and decided that, as this person was otherwise kind and decent, I could afford to keep those sentiments aside. Thinking it through, it makes some sense as not heeding the advice would only lead me to becoming the Angry Black Guy ™.

However, this extended to other areas as well. As I mentioned before, we all share in rather dark humor. Things like:

What do Jews from the Holocaust and Stan Lee have in common?… They’re all dead.

FB Group Chat

The feelings on memes like this got stowed away, too. I would just ignore the notification and do something else for a few hours. There was the plaintive message of “WTF dude”, but nothing more from it. Then I saw this meme come in:

That is the closest I have had to an out-of-body experience in a long time. The pure racism of the meme. The fact that it was considered funny. That it was posted to the group that I was in without thought. It left me breathless. I could only gather my thoughts to type “Can we all agree to never post anything like this ever again?”

This is where we expect the story to include a dialog about how everyone of these people I had known would come together and say, “Whew. OK. So let’s talk this out” and dialog would happen as we’re all friends.

Well, Reader, I regret to inform you that this did not happen.

Discomfort

Instead, there was applause for the meme and how funny it was. I just left at that point. Some noticed moments later, some noticed a few minutes after that. I received a direct message from the person who had asked me to not make people uncomfortable so long ago and we talked a bit. She asked how she could fix it and I told her the truth.

They would not listen. They would see her complaining as something she was only doing because of me being offended. Not because the joke was awful. In addition, they would see me

In other words, no one would silence themselves for me.

The fact is, these DMs I got were only because my leaving made people uncomfortable and they had to confront that in my leaving. I told her this. I told her they would be defensive as I hit the block button on a few accounts. I told her they would ask a bunch of questions about why I hadn’t said anything until now without knowing that my overall silence was my gift to them per her request for a whole year.

Which is to say: this was always there, but no one said anything until today when I finally had enough. Had I gotten DMs around this behavior? Plenty. I still have them.

Loneliness

I’ve always enjoyed math. Processing it, teaching it, working through a problem, just the whole process is delightful. Math always works and it does not lie unless you do.

When I look at the statistics, there were about 10 people in the group. 5 were speaking that day. 1 posted the meme. 1 defended the poster. 2 friends of 10 years did not defend me until I had left the group because they are simply not confrontational people did not want to risk shaking things up in the circle.

So using those 5 that were speaking:

  • People for the meme: 40%
  • People against the meme: 20%
  • Independent party votes: 40%

Put another way, that could have easily been 60%… but it wasn’t. Yeah, things were said, but said because I left and didn’t let the moment pass unmarked.

So I can leave and assure others and myself that nothing will happen. No one will miss me. Everyone likes me, but no one will miss me. No one will think about what was said and amend it or apologize because it isn’t wrong to them.

It is freeing and terribly lonely to be so starkly aware of those facts, but I’m so well-practiced the feelings just pass. I know their names and their faces and their favorite colors.

The poster of the meme tried to reach out, realized they couldn’t, and then passed a message along that they wanted to talk. They wanted an explanation about why I left. About why I didn’t say anything beforehand. About why I didn’t comment on someone else’s comment before this moment.

My response: “Noted.”

This is how racism flourishes.

What explanation would matter, anyway?

  • “I was asked not to. Literally asked in a DM.”
  • “Were the angry faces not a clue?”
  • “What about the time we talked about how a meme you posted bothered me and you said, ‘That’s just my type of humor, ya know.’?”

Additional note: I don’t owe people explanations for my feelings and especially when you only care enough to just try to explain why that meme shouldn’t offend me rather than trying to understand why it did and not picking something else – anything else – that would have been just as funny.

I wish I could be angrier about this somehow. I wish I could even be sad. Instead, I’m staring at this event like it is a reading of a well-worn book with my own notes all over the margins.

Instead, I’m out here and not in the group – where everyone likes me I guess – feeling like every bone is broken and every sleeping nerve woke up at once and knowing that none of it matters enough for people to even consider adjusting their behavior.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

― Edmund Burke

I’d add: or ask other good men to do the same.

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