An Excuse, Even a Good One, Is Just an Excuse

My Grandpa Jay was from a different era.  He came from {pause} "The Great Depression."  He grew up dirt poor and, to hear him tell it, actually ate dirt for breakfast on most days (he also had a flair for exaggeration ).  He was built and formed by a time in our country's history that most reading this will have no conception of, let alone foster any kind of appreciation for, the circumstances.

Grandpa Jay wouldn't much care for your lack of context.  He'd likely smirk at the very phrase "lack of context" - not because he was anti-intellectual but because he generally liked to cut through the bullshit and language sometimes has a way of adding filigree unnecessarily (another words, adds layers of bullshit that get in the way of understanding...).

While Jay Bowen didn't know the term "white privilege" he understood it thoroughly.  He would refer to the "Great Depression" as a time when there was only one color to be concerned with and it wasn't black or white.  I remember stories of his growing up being a time when neighbors just helped each other because everybody was "poor as hell."  I also remember him telling me about how much harder the blacks had it than his family during a time when everyone had it tough.  He also used the term "nigger" more than a few times in my impressionable presence.  It always seemed that race was a particularly complicated issue for him but he had other things on his mind - I'm told veterans of war do.

With the new (and scandal-riddled appearance of) Harper Lee novel, we discover that Atticus Finch, the moral paragon and white savior of justice in To Kill a Mockingbird, is a bigot.  Interestingly, the revelation of his more complicated views on race seem to color his (fictional, remember) defense of Tom Robinson.  I've read at least one thinkpiece on it that posits that while the character of Finch is still a hero in the first novel, he isn't an ally.  He is heroic, not for his defense of a black man but for his insistence on equality under the law for all men, regardless of race.  At a time where people want to claim that their personal, religious beliefs trump the law of the land, a character found to be a bigot who defends the rights of a black man not because of his skin color but because the law doesn't differentiate between black and white is a bit remarkable.

Jay Bowen was a hero.  Like, a nonfictional one.  He served under George S. Patton in WWII and came back whole.  He helped to free Polish Jews from Nazi concentration camps and put his life on the line for his country.  He was NOT an ally to blacks or feminists nor would he even consider being one as he would see what I see: "allies" are supposed to help by shutting up and doing what they're told.  "Allies" are supposed to accept on face value the arguments of the oppressed as capital T Truth without question or interrogation.  The very term "ally" is now being used as a bludgeon against well meaning whites and males who want to move things toward equal treatment for all people but are not in lockstep with the specific mantra of the marginalized.  Grandpa Jay would give anyone - regardless of political stance or race - the shirt off of his back but rarely espoused sides on these issues.

I'm not knocking this "ally" thing - if that's your jam, I say it's a good thing.  I'm no one's "ally" - I'm either your friend or not, I'm on your side of things or not, but I'll help in my own way.  If you're drowning and I offer you my hand and you complain that it is not the assistance you're looking for, have fun with that drowning thing.  I'll help the guy next to you without the stick up his ass.

One of the things Jay Bowen said to me that has stuck hard as I've grown up and am now older than he was when I was born was the admonition "An excuse, even a good one, is just a fucking excuse."  I took and take this to mean that we all have choices we make and when we make bad choices, we seek to either blame someone else for them or find justification for making them and that that is bullshit.  Each man and woman on the planet is responsible for the choices he or she makes.

What it does NOT mean is that everyone is responsible for their lot in life.  I no more "earned" my seat at the privileged kid's table as a white, straight male than any of those young, black men and women "earned" the legacy of fucking slavery and forced rape and families torn apart by greedy, inhuman monsters buying and selling their ancestors.  What we are born into is far and beyond any of our responsibility.

It does mean, however, that unless you want to paint someone as an infant or stupid. you don't get to allow him to blame his choices in the now on his lot in life.  In other words, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow has fuckall to do with your conscious choice to shoot someone in a drive-by.  Your upbringing in poverty and racism does not suddenly render you mentally incapable of knowing right from wrong any more than the bigoted assholes decrying the removal of the Confederate Battle flag can rely on being raised by white supremacist parents as excuses for their mouth breathing allegiance to a symbol of Pro-Slavery ancestors.

"Sure, Don.  But as a fucking member of the White Guy Patriarchy, your choices are better than mine by a long shot!"

True.  I have no excuse whatsoever for racial animus, discrimination, bigotry and generally shitty behavior.  And you have a really good excuse for acting like a victim of systematic hatred and body theft and reacting with rage and doing what you can to destroy the symbols of that system.  And even a really good excuse is just a fucking excuse.  

Selling drugs or hedge fund futures to feed your family?  Makes sense to me.  Selling drugs to children or hedge fund futures to people you know you're ripping off because you can?  You're a fucking sociopath.  Killing someone to defend your life?  Yup.  Killing someone because he disrespected your tribe?  You're a fucktard.  

We ALL know better than we behave and we ALL want to excuse our shitty behavior in any way we can. But an excuse, even a good one, is just a fucking excuse.

Postscript: The protesters at the NetRoots thing?  THAT'S how one responds to systematic racism.  Anger?  You bet?  Volume?  Absolutely.  Were there guns involved?  Nope.  Any violent criminal behavior?  Nope.  And they were HEARD.  Minds were being CHANGED.  No excuses necessary for speaking loud enough to be heard.