Lesfic teaching tolerance

A while back my wife came home from a visit with our neighbor, Joan (not her real name). With a tone of disbelief she told me they briefly touched on a racial issue, during which our neighbor repeated a common racist line when discounting why she should care about systemic racism: “It’s not my fault, I never owned slaves.” Sandy always tries her best to remain amicable in conversations, gently pointed out that wasn’t the issue. To which Joan replied, “And anyway, it wasn’t so bad, at least they had jobs.”

This shocked Sandy but didn’t surprise me in the least. I already knew the woman was racist by any number of clues I’d picked up in dealing with her from time to time. I keep my distance from people I consider toxic and she’s one. I want to scream when she rides over on her quad and says something ignorant like, “You two work as hard as men!” Or asks which one of us cooks or does wife things. *sigh*

25083560-zero-tolerance-warning-sign-a-yellow-and-black-sign-with-the-words-zero-tolerance-isolated-on-a-whitSandy always wants to be neighborly and is better than I’ll ever be at seeing good in people. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is good in almost everyone. I’m more than willing to help Joan move a bag of top soil or get her mail. We helped her out last year when her husband passed. I’m not totally unfeeling. It’s just that when I am confronted by bigotry and intolerance coming from the same person, I tend to steer clear, I don’t see it as my mission to convert them. Mostly because I think they can’t be converted.

As my biggest fan, Sandy usually works my writing into any conversation when she meets somebody and this neighbor is no exception. I’m humbled by her support and pride in my writing, even if I think she overdoes it sometimes. What I never saw coming was that she would dig copies of my novels out of the box in the bottom of the closet and give them to this neighbor. Holy shit.

Me: Sandy, you do remember how much lesbian sex is depicted in those books, right?

Sandy: Oh, it will be fine. She’s an adult.

Me: (shaking my head) Okay… (I mean it was already too late.)

A few weeks later, I was outside working in the yard and I heard a car coming up the drive. It was Joan. I told her Sandy was inside. And she said, okay, but first, I want to tell you that I finished your books! I love your writing style and your descriptions are amazing. Devon is such a great character. I thanked her and had to admit I was pleased. She said she read them all back to back because she couldn’t wait to find out what happened. Sandy came outside and the two of them talked about the books while I stood there, slightly embarrassed, but feeling good.

Then Joan said something that surprised me. “You know, I realized reading your books what Devon and Conner feel in their relationships is just how I felt about my Frank. It’s no different. Just love.”

And I was speechless.

Sandy grinned ear to ear and later said, “See? You’re writing converted Joan. We’re having a positive impact on the world.”

I had to admit, it was a pretty amazing thing to have our very conservative neighbor speak so openly about love being the only thing that matters. Maybe I was wrong about Joan. It gave me a newfound sense of hope for the world.

Yesterday, Joan stopped by and I didn’t have the anxiety I usually have when I see her, which was great. Sandy chatted with her while I got some work done. Eventually, I hear them talking about current events & politics. Sandy brings up the story of an Ohio store owner, a Dreamer, brought here at eight years old, who was arrested by ICE and is to be deported.

Joan said, “I’m glad they deported him. He’s been in our country 30 years, why didn’t he ever bother to become a citizen? These Illegals are taking jobs from Americans.”

I started getting that familiar queasy feeling as I listened.

“What jobs did you ever lose to an immigrant?” Sandy asked.

“They don’t want to learn English. They just want to get welfare. I’m sick of it.”

Sandy pressed, “No, tell me what job you didn’t get because of an immigrant.”

“Not to an immigrant. At my old job, a black woman got the promotion I deserved just because of her race.”

Sandy asked if she was sure that was the reason. Absolutely, Joan said.

“Did the woman work there the same amount of time or less than you?” Sandy asked.

Joan admitted the woman worked there a couple of years longer. Sandy said, “Don’t you think her seniority might have been the reason?”

Nope. Joan was emphatic. “She got that job instead of me because she was black, plain and simple. If you’re white that’s what happens nowadays. Whites and Christians are discriminated against.”

Sandy looked my way with a plea to help. I shrugged. One step forward, two steps back. Clearly, Joan’s newfound tolerance has limits.

Guess I better finish another book.

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28 thoughts on “Lesfic teaching tolerance

  1. I soooo feel everything you’ve said here. My wife and I live in tiny small village she grew up in. We’ve come to be accepted and welcomed into the homes of many people in town, young and old, who wouldn’t have given us the time of day ten years ago. They’ve come to realize that our relationship mirrors the ones they’re in with their own significant others, in most ways. Some of these folks even read my books and love them. On the other hand, extreme bigotry is a way of life, ‘way out here’. Black people are still ‘colored’ in general conversation with many of our acquaintances and they are still the dreaded “N” word when a conversation has anything to do with crime, drugs, jobs, etc. It doesn’t help that there are few people of ANY racial minority anywhere in the county.

    I’ve had the same conversations with people as your wife has, over jobs. “Illegal immigrants are taking all of our jobs!”, I hear and I ask what job they’ve lost to someone who was illegal. In response, I typically get something along the lines of, “You’re just another one of those brainwashed hippy liberals, ain’t you?”. This is the way these people have always thought and their minds are not going to change anytime soon.

    Living by example only gets us so far. We’re not black or another racial minority. We can talk to these folks all we want but their experience is a rural, white experience that is devoid of any sort of interaction with other races or other cultures. They just don’t get what the problems are outside of their own little world and they can’t understand why people protest (Women’s marches, NFL players kneeling…) when ‘they have it so good’. They’re fueled by the likes of Fox News and other conservative media and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to follow anything else, thank you very much. Yes, I’ve heard that too.

    That man whose name we don’t speak didn’t start all of this. It’s always been there. He just gave these folks one more chance to be heard on a national scale.

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  2. I live in a conservative county, I grew up further north in an even more conservative area. And I understand your two steps forward one step back very well. You can try all you want to convert people, to provide a logical and compassionate argument, but some prejudices are hard to overcome for folks unless they suddenly connect with the people they judge on a deeper level. They have to find that between themselves and that which they see is different. Sometimes we can help, like with your book, to show that connection. But more often than not their eyes remain closed. This makes me sad for the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for blog. I’m with you in avoiding the “Joans” of this world. It can seem such a waste of breath. Best thing is to preach by our actions as you and your wife have done. I’m often amazed by seemingly intelligent people expressing wholly racist and homophobic views. Sorry to say your president is one of those folk although scratch the seemingly intelligent part of the description.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, you’re right. We live our lives authentically. People can either accept that or not. My wife is visiting her family this week. Joan told her to tell me to call if I needed anything or if I get lonely. I’m good. LOL

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  4. Great blog. The thing I’ve come to realize is that although people spout things that they think come from the logical side of their brain, they’re actually talking from a place of emotion. So when your wife tries to reason with Joan about immigration it doesn’t work because the neighbor isn’t talking from a logical/rational place, but an emotional one. And I think that’s why your books had the impact they did – because she got it emotionally. My next novel deals with immigration issues (being one myself I remember much of the angst and fear) and I’m going to be very interested to see the reactions it gets. I know they say you should avoid controversial subjects but to me there’s no point in writing if I do that. Thanks again for writing this.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Allison, I’d love to read your book. And I’m a big believer in emotional connection in writing and I refuse to avoid controversial subjects. Maybe your book could be the teaching tool for Joan next! Let us know where we can pick up a copy. Thanks!

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  5. I love your story. Write on, sister friend. Tell the stories that need telling. Through reading/hearing tales that humanize ‘the other’ and the honest conversations that follow, learning occurs. Don’t be surprised that Joan didn’t make the leap to tolerance. She’s been taught her whole life to be intolerant and to discount the realities of others. But she can’t escape the empathy that good writing can give her.

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  6. This is the same reason why I avoid reading the comment section on any controversial story or article on Facebook or elsewhere. Online people hide behind a screen and anonymity and have even less of a filter.

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  7. She’s growing, slowly but growing. Her other biases are deeply entrenched from her childhood, I bet. It’s something people pass down from generation to generation. Keep exposing her to new things, maybe invite some people of color over so she can see how her viewpoints are skewed. Trust me, it can work. I teach at a majority minority college near DC. I came up here during the primaries from Florida. My students assumed I was a Trump supporter because I was white and from the south.
    Hang in there, she may surprise you yet again.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It can be so exhausting to have those conversations with people, both on your own behalf and on behalf of others who are also marginalized. I feel your frustration. Yet we still keep writing, and hoping and praying someone, ANYONE, will listen to what we have to say and maybe soften their hearts. Blessings for your writing and your interactions with Joan!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Yvonne! Hello to all from our new corner of the world! Yes, one step at a time. I keep telling myself this experience is teaching me patience and new ways to talk to people. At least I hope!

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  9. L.M., thanks for relating your adventures with your neighbor in Bias Land. It’s been my experience that our books, words, and physical presence can effect changes in racist and/or homophobic attitudes, but the changes are temporary at best. I agree with Allison Solomon’s statement regarding your neighbor’s emotional vs. cognitive reactions. Despite your and Sandy’s best efforts to engage your neighbor in a bit of reflection, It’s likely her attitudes won’t really change unless or until she has a deeply emotional and perhaps dramatic experience involving a person of color.
    The connections between racism/homophobia and one’s emotions is an important factor as we try to move forward while he whose name I shall not utter and his comrades…er cohorts try to push us back to the closets, plantations, and death camps of humanity’s worst eras. He’s telegraphed an invitation to your neighbor and others who agree with her to express their emotions of fear-based hatred and anger, and they have RSVP’d with ugliness. Although our present situation is sad and frightening, your voice and Sandy’s ring true and strong. Please don’t abandon the struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Renee. Some days I get depressed, looking around our new surroundings, unable to find anything that looks open-hearted and kind. Then, I chat with one of my co-founders of Indivisible in our area and realize that there are others–maybe not a majority–but others around here that believe in bettering our world and opening our hearts to our fellow humans. In those moments I am reminded not to lose hope.

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