Thursday, March 04, 2004


Obviously personal experience influences the way you see the world and think about issues. The following is a situation that affected the way I perceive racism. (I hate it when papers start this way but it seems simplest.)

A few years ago, one of my cousins married a Black man. Some members of my family were accepting. A lot of others acted like idiots.

Some of you who know me have heard me talk about my ultra-religious, ultra-liberal cousin and her husband. The two of them went to the wedding and did their best to make up for those who didn't go.

There were three groups of relatives who didn't go: those that didn't because it was too far away, those that didn't go because they opposed interracial marriage, or whose invitations were lost (or not invited). [I had moved eight times in the past six years so I'm hoping my invitation was lost in the mail.]

Then there was a strange miscellaneous group. Some went but privately were against the marriage. One of her brothers drove nearly 700 miles so he could be in town for the wedding but refused to go. He wanted to make it crystal-clear that he wasn't just missing it for distance—he was deliberately rubbing it in. Finally there was one of my older relatives who is more than a little crazy and who often used racial (and just weird) language. When she heard about the situation, she drove to the wedding to be as supportive as she could.

Some of the groups are easy to categorize. Only an evangelical atheist could fault my religious cousin and husband. My cousin who drove down to go to the beach during the ceremony is clearly an asshole.

But how do you "rank" the ones who went but were hypocrites? Were they better than the ones who refused to go at all? Did going to the wedding in honest support redeem my old aunt who still uses racial terms? Am I completely off the hook because I never got an invitation and didn't even know about the mess until after the fact? (Logically, I should be but I still feel bad about not going.)

This isn't a perfect analogy to Marge Schott (I've now heard some people allege that she did act on her beliefs which, to me, changes things). This might be a matter of splitting hairs or semantics but racist actions should deserve a different reaction than racist speech. Obviously the two often go together but does it make my asshole cousin any less an asshole because I've never heard him use derogatory language at all?

This weekend, I got a baby announcement from my cousin and her husband (actually two at once—the first was returned because they sent it to an old address). I keep starting to write them back but other than send pictures of my own kids, I can't get anything right on paper. I don't even know if I should apologize for not going to the wedding if I'm not sure they invited me. (Maybe it somehow got sent to Marge and that's what did her in.) It's just that it seems that I'm the only one on the planet who hasn't got this all figured out.

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