I have one of those faces.
It stretches and moves and sometimes lets everyone know exactly what I’m thinking.
But sometimes it makes people think I’m upset when I’m just thinking about tacos. Tacos do not make me upset.
My face does stuff is what I’m saying, although it’d be super if folks mixed things up and focused on my cankles.
My face has been used as a reason to pull activism conversations from “what we need to do” to “Jackie’s upset face.”
While upset motivates when a crisis occurs, upset is also just enough of a reason for people not to do something if there’s no immediate perception of a crisis. We’re not comfortable with upset. We don’t like to be seen as NOT NICE.
Welcome to Nice People Inertia, and in the land of trying to make the world a better place, Nice People Inertia is where a lot of the work occurs. The work becomes trying to get Nice People to do something different. And sometimes the work becomes trying to get Nice People to do anything at all.
Nice People equate upset with an outrage that plants us firmly in the amygdala far from logic and reason.
I’m not talking about that kind of emotion.
I’m talking about identifying problems and using our emotional responses as motivation to do something that makes a difference.
Hate is nothing new, although methods and vocabulary updates.
Hate isn’t always cartoonish and blatant and stuffed into a baggie or spray-painted on a wall, although those are the things most people can identify as hate.
Most hate is subtle, coded, and spread by educated, often wealthy people who know the power of NICE and the power of faux civility as they spread half-truths and full lies. They use Nice People Inertia masterfully. They want people to keep doing what they’re already (not) doing. Or, worse, they give a nice shove down a greasy hill of ginned-up outrage.
This paves the way for the bags of unhinged hate to be tossed into our community by people who are banking on the fact that most of us accept that this is how things are and maybe a few people will be swayed.
But mostly it’s meant to scare people. It’s really good at that.
The other day, while walking the dog with my husband, we came across this baggie.
That bag was definitely the worst thing I picked up while taking my dog for his morning constitutional.
This is the SECOND time we’ve found these bags in less than a year. They do not target my family specifically, but all Jews in the area. These bags have been found in recent months all over the country.
However, our family has also personally experienced antisemitism in my town, and other families have experienced racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other acts/words of targeted hatred. It’s awfully tempting to explain it as a one-off situation. “Unfortunate, but not us.”
We found the antisemitic screed (which, bonus, when opened at the police station contained all sorts of hate for all sorts of other groups). For many folks in my world, this was a real first-time, first-hand experience with blanket hatred. Scary. Unnerving. Paralyzing. Awful.
People contacted me to tell me it made them scared or angry or both. Some people gave boundless support and empathy, for which I am eternally grateful. Good people made those of us targeted by this feel so much better. Some people gave me homework. “Call the press!” “Write a post!” “Do a deep analysis of the contents!” “Find the humor in this!” Some people did and said nothing, which is understandable. This takes a lot of processing and it’s hard to know what to do.
My real homework is the work I’ve been doing in my community and beyond for many years: letting people know what they can actually do.
Mostly it’s paying attention, reaching out, and speaking out when needed. Rachel Cargle’s important triangle: Education, Empathy, and Action. It’s that last one that trips a lot of us up.
We took the hate bag to the police and I notified the ADL so they could add it to whatever database they keep about this.
The good news is that there are always things we can do, ways to fight when the hate is blatant and in-your-face and also while it is nice, polite hate, draped in eagles and God and traditions that never served everyone equally.
No one in any vulnerable community should feel this way because of a sort-of random hate screed or a targeted act or the more regular, subtle garbage packaged in gauzy Americana and a cat’s cradle of patriotic words sharpened to a point rather than broadened into a shield.
And if decision-makers, local and beyond, promote policies that harm vulnerable members of our society, they’re going to have to say it to my face. They will know exactly what I’m thinking, and it won’t be about tacos.