When I have been offended, my reaction has always been to retreat. I don’t mean turning and running, but a stepping back. Did I do something to cause this offense? How should I handle this offense? Did the offending person mean the offense? Can I simply avoid the offending person? In answer to the questions as a whole, I try to avoid the offending person in the future, if that is possible. I only confront when there is no other options, and it seems over time with many offenses to be an attack on me personally.
Yet, today, the offended is on the offensive. Strange? Or is my response strange?
In a southern college, a boy eats a banana. He is typical of almost all boys his age. He’s a slob. He tosses his banana peel carelessly. The banana peel gets hung in a tree. The story should end there. Someone should see the banana peel and figure that a classmate was a slob and take the banana peel to the trash. But, alas, that did not happen.
Now, before we finish this story, let’s examine slobs. Neil Simon wrote a play that premiered on Broadway in 1965, The Odd Couple. The play was turned into a movie. The movie then spawned two television series and two cartoon series. Some award winning or at least nominations were received. The play is about a slob who allows a neat freak, kicked out by his wife, to move in. The comedy ensues when the two styles clash. If the stereotypical male wasn’t a slob in the first place, the play / movie / show / cartoon wouldn’t have been so funny.
Now back to the story: There are other stereotypes. These are stereotypes borne from prejudice and hatred. If one were to hate black people, they might think that African-Americans, with ancestors in Africa, are little different than the apes that come from Africa. Apes eat bananas. Thus a banana peel could reference a subjugation of banana eaters and thus a subjugation of blacks. Does this sound utterly ridiculous to you?
Enter a black female from a Greek sorority. She is walking past the Greek fraternity house where the boy had eaten the banana. She sees the banana peel. She sees the twisted logic of 1) Display of banana, 2) Placed to offend blacks, 3) A warning against blacks coming into their territory. She is ‘offended’. She claims to be afraid for herself and her sorority sisters. There is an upcoming Greek gathering so that the sorority girls and the fraternity guys can get together for a major social event. Due to the offensive banana peel, the event was canceled. The university administration could not afford racial clashes.
I may have placed offended in quotes, because it is ludicrous to consider that a simple banana peel would offend anyone. Wait for a Felix Unger-type to get offended. He’d don double rubber gloves first, but the offending banana peel would be gone. But Felix Unger, or his modern clone, would be offended that trash was not properly disposed.
Yet, our society may have created a generation or two of people who are so neurotic that they see offense through a series of illogical steps rather than taking the one logical step – trash improperly disposed. A different way to look at it is that we have definitely created a couple of generations whose first reaction is to think of what they can get out of it.
For a while on the TV channels that I watch, there were ads sponsored by a lawyer. In my younger days, he would be called an ambulance chaser, but that would not be politically correct today. The ads show a scene of a car crash. You hear the lawyer answer his phone. The person tells of a car accident and their loved one being injured. The lawyer says that he’ll meet the person at the hospital. Then you see the person who had called in a different setting. The person tells how many thousands of dollars were made. Then the lawyer, off camera, says, “It’s just that easy.”
Those commercials offended me. I didn’t call the television station to have them removed. I didn’t start a petition or have the lawyer sued for offending me. I simply wept for a world gone mad. If my wife was carted away in an ambulance, I would be in the ambulance by her side (if they allowed it), praying. The prayers would continue in the emergency waiting room. Suing the other driver would never enter my mind. When my wife has had heart problems, I followed the ambulance and did just that. I know what my reaction would be. Yet, these people thought of making money.
Yes, if the person is handicapped as a result of the injury, life may cost more due to therapy and accommodations for the handicap. The person may not be able to work. But when these calls were made, they didn’t know if their significant other would be alive. Shouldn’t that be the first priority?
I do not walk in the shoes of the male slob or frightened female. The boy was made to give an apology. It was beautifully crafted. Only time will tell if the apology was genuine. Only time will tell whether the boy will hold resentment for being ridiculed for what he honestly knew as slovenliness, but now he will be for all eternity labeled a racist. With the event canceled, the frightened female got her fifteen minutes of fame. She got a feeling of power that comes from making others react to your request. That feeling of power is the same feeling that bullies get in the school yard, but the feeling is fleeting. The fear is still there, isn’t it? Is the fear based on fact or the imagined attitudes of others? Many fear what might happen, because they’ve heard stories. Were the stories based on substantiated facts, or were they fiction?
As long as we hold onto the stereotypes, whether the stereotype is against others or ourselves, there will continue to be fear and hatred. There will continue to be confrontation.
Now let’s look at another recent event. Another southern college had a social event. As a centerpiece for the tables, the decorator placed stems of the cotton plant. The stems had cotton bolls in their glorious white against the dark brown of the stems. I am sure that these two colors created the theme for the remaining decorations.
Why would someone use cotton bolls as decorations, other than their beauty? There is less cotton produced in the south as there used to be, but it is still a large industry. The need for cotton is probably greater now than before. Being a southern college, there were probably a few buildings on the campus that were built due to the profit that cotton had brought to the community. How could anyone be offended by that?
Black people, coming to the event, see the cotton bolls. One hundred and fifty years ago, slaves picked cotton. These white-folk are putting us down and making fun of us. Then, another southern school of higher learning was ridiculed for being insensitive.
Then it was learned that the cotton boll decorations were purchased at Hobby Lobby. That place is run by a bunch of right-wing nut jobs. Let’s attack them for even selling such an offensive thing. But Hobby Lobby management is Christian, and their policies are based on their Christian beliefs.
Is the recent attack on Hobby Lobby the persecution of Christians? I believe so. Any chance that the Devil will have to stir the pot… The pot will be stirred. A decorator thought that a stem of cotton bolls was beautiful. The cotton boll and stem are a part of nature. They are beautiful. They are the starting point of blue jeans. Then, the Devil will have an offense perceived when none was intended, and eventually the Devil will be sure to make a connection between conservative Christian beliefs and the right-wing conservative extremists. Attack! Attack! The right-wing conservative extremists are disliked by Christians. Yet, Christians love them as they love the leftists that want to take our religious freedoms away.
So, a painting of Robert E. Lee is standing in a museum. Someone is offended. Robert E. Lee was a racist. He stands for nothing but the hate of black people. Yet, while Robert E. Lee was a slave owner, he had spoken out against slavery. Oh, wait, they removed those words from our history book to preserve the portrayal of a southern white hating all blacks for all time. This was not true at the time and is not true today. There are extremists, but there are extremists on any issue. Don’t condemn the majority, because the few don’t want to let go of their ignorance and hate.
The etymology of the phrase ‘poor white trash’ starts with the slaves of rich slave owners. They laughed at the poor slave owner in the next field. The poor slave owner had to work in the field next to his slaves, while the rich slave owner had hired hands that ensured that the slave did the work while the owner sat on the front porch and watched.
I mention that because my great-grandfather left his memoirs. In them he admits to being ‘poor white trash’ in its pre-1860s definition. ‘Poor white trash’ immediately after the war referred to white men who visited the black community for female companionship, per the memoirs. My great-grandfather worked alongside the son of his father’s slaves. The young man was within a year of the same age as my great-grandfather. When the war started, my great-grandfather joined the southern army. In his absence, the young black slave was with my great-great-grandfather when Yankee raiders captured my ancestor and the young black man disappeared into the woods with blood-thirsty Yankee raiders chasing him. Many years later, my great-grandfather, needing a break from his labors, spent a trip to Gettysburg (a battle in which he didn’t fight) to celebrate the first-ever reenactment of Pickett’s Charge where he was filmed running (walking briskly?) toward the camera. If you see the documentary, he is the skinny white-haired gentleman in a suit who is bald on top and his beard and goatee look a lot like Colonel Sanders. Other than that diversion late in life, he spent the rest of his life after the war teaching in a one-room school house during the week, and traveling from town to town as a circuit rider preacher on the weekends. Everywhere he traveled, he asked people in the black community if they had any news of his brother. Not his former slave, but the brother whom he loved.
Let’s put these stereotypes in a casket and bury them. As long as one generation passes the stereotypes to the next, we will continue these ‘offenses’ forever. It will soon get to the point when everything that we say or do will be a message of hate to someone looking for the hate rather than the love. They will see what they want to see, after taking it through some odd filter of twisted illogical steps.
Come Holy Spirit. Help us, before it is too late.
C. S. Lewis wrote that in the vast majority of times whenever he had offended someone, it was unintentional. Is it possible that a banana peel was dropped by a slob, and the decorator’s intentions were to beautify the table with the fruits of a local industry? Yet, we relive the hurt. We relive the pain. Because some choose to hold onto hate instead of love.
When I have been offended, I use my introspection to improve my character. Being a man of noble character is my goal.
Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
May we love Jesus. May we love each other. May we preserve the truth of our past to learn from our mistakes and build upon the things that are true and wholesome.