Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Racist Dinner Party

Many of my Trump-voting friends are genuinely baffled and upset at being called racist, sexist, bigoted by association. "Really, not about race," they say about their vote. Let me try to explain, as I often do, with a story.

You are an American of Ostrogoth ancestry. You and your wife and children are going to a neighbor's house for Thanksgiving dinner. You're pretty pumped.

Out on the sidewalk you meet this guy. "What do you think you're doing in this neighborhood," he asks, not very nicely. "I don't really think we want your kind around here." He's pretty confrontational, but also kind of clownish. You're uneasy, but not quite worried. Then you notice that there are a bunch of other guys standing behind him, just coming out of the shadows.

"Yeah," says one of them. "How about we just kick your Ostie ass! How about we just send you and your little Ostie spawn back to Ostrogothia, or wherever the hell you people come from." You notice that a couple of the men are holding baseball bats.  ("Ostie" is a crude and vulgar slur against Americans of Ostrogoth ancestry. And your family has lived in this country for six generations.)

The thugs kind of look at the first guy, to see if he's going to let them continue. All he says is, "You know, I miss the old days, when certain people knew their place. We need to make this neighborhood great again, like it was before certain people moved in. Maybe we should get rid of these ones. "

"But maybe not the woman," says one of the thugs. "She looks like a nice piece of ass."

"Yeah," says the first guy, who appears to be their leader. "Yeah, I'd f@#! that."

The rest of the mob starts chanting "String them up" and you are sure it's time to go, so you and your family hurry up the walk, to your neighbor's. Shaken, you go inside and prepare to sit down to dinner. You tell your hosts what happened. Maybe they mumble something about "Oh, that racist fool" or maybe they don't say anything at all. You try to shake it off.

Then you walk into the dining room, and that guy who moments ago had you fearing for the safety of your family, is sitting at the end of the table, holding the carving knife.

You turn to your hosts. "What the hell??!!"

You host shrugs. "We thought he'd be really good at carving and serving the turkey. At least better than Aunt Hillary. You know, that awful bitch."

And as you hustle your family out the front door, hoping the mob isn't still out there waiting for you, and as you put on your coats, your hosts are upset-- "Why are you leaving? Look, we're not racists. We didn't decide to have him over because we agree with his racist stuff. We just, you know, thought he would make a really good carver."

And if you're the host in this story, maybe you did make your choice for what seemed like non-racist reasons. But if you can't understand how your Other citizens feel when they see the man who came at them with racist threats, empowering racist goons-- how they feel when they see him in charge of carving and serving up the turkey at the dinner, well, you need to think it through for a moment, because you invited him, and it is on you to pressure him to behave.

And no, this isn't a perfect analogy. Non-white non-male non-straight citizens of this country are not guests (they're citizens), and there is a lot more history involved than just one ugly encounter on the sidewalk. But the point remains-- if you bring a racist, misogynistic, ugly man into our shared home and seat him at the end of the table, your motives don't absolve you of responsibility for the choice that you've made. You may not have said anything racist yourself, but your actions make it clear that you don't consider his racism all that important and the comfort and safety of your neighbors is not as important to you as a well-carved turkey.


  1. Now is the time for all to come (notice that I didn't say good men) to the aid of their country. We all need to ponder what kind of aid that is going to be, and how we individually can offer it.

  2. Not just an imperfect analogy, but a lousy analogy. Try again.

  3. They Might Be Giants' "Your Racist Friend" comes to mind.

  4. While not a perfect analogy, I do think it perfectly underscores the core issue.

  5. No more critiques from old white men, Falstaff. You can't possibly understand what Americans who are muslim, hispanic, or lgbt are going through right now. The man has a carving knife and it looks a little red.