America is still in the throes of two ear-deafening shouting matches over private episodes that somehow became public knowledge. Although they were vastly different occurrences, they parallel each other in that the responses to both incidents were both loud and angry.
I’m sure you’re exhausted from hearing about the first: when our Dorito-dust-covered doofus president called Haiti and other countries “shitholes.”
The blowback from both sides was swift and vociferous. Progressives and original-recipe Caucasians immediately branded Trump a racist. Conservatives, white people who want their “country back” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s cousin’s children on his mama’s side alt-right-splained it away by saying that Trump wasn’t a racist because he shook a black person’s hand one time in 1994. Trump himself even pushed back by proclaiming himself to be “the least racist person” ever.
The second situation occurred on the website Babe, when a woman recounted a night with comedian Aziz Ansari that ended with her feeling “violated.”
The reaction to the piece has been as divided and cacophonous as the Trump shithole backlash. Some say Ansari is being castigated, when it seems like his only crime was misreading cues. Others say his actions were typical of the aggressive male assumption that he has consent unless a woman screams “No” or chops him in the throat.
How do I feel about the Aziz Ansari incident? My opinion is that I should shut the fuck up.
I am not, nor ever will I be, a woman; therefore, it is not for me to determine whether a woman’s sense that she was violated are legitimate or not. Every single person reading these words knows that there are men who don’t understand consent or completely disregard it. Whatever my feelings are about the incident—I will never be the one riding home crying.
That is also how I wish white people felt about racism.
White people’s misconceptions about racism mirror what a large number of men think about consent. There are white people everywhere who believe they “can’t be racist” because they haven’t said the word “nigger” or burned a cross on anyone’s lawn, in the same way that some men feel they aren’t guilty of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct because they didn’t hold a woman’s legs open or threaten to fire her if she didn’t perform sexual favors. They believe they get to define their misdeeds and determine how the subject of their actions should respond.
Look, I get why there is so much conflict over the Babe story. It has nuances, and people are predisposed to picking sides. But the voices asking, “Why did she stay so long and subject herself to being violated?” sound a lot like people who ask why Trayvon Martin didn’t just talk to George Zimmerman, why Freddie Gray ran or—more appropriately— “If it’s not a shithole, why did they come here?”
For instance, Tavis Smiley recently took a break from his rigorous schedule of Obama hating to admit to having consensual sexual relations with his employees, but declared that he wasn’t a sexual harasser. He excused the prospect that a woman might feel powerless to resist the advances of the man who signs her paycheck by asking, “How else are you going to meet people?”
Tavis’ explanation of “But my job is where the hos at” is no different from the explanation offered by conservatives like the sentient stalk of celery Tucker Carlson, whose counterargument is, “But some countries are shitholes.” Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the damn-near alt-right Daily Wire took a shit on his keyboard and submitted it to the National Review, asking, “What’s the Point of Labeling Trump a Racist?” Shapiro writes:
Now, let’s stipulate a few facts. First, Trump makes racist statements, from his attacks on a “Mexican” judge to his willingness to wink at the KKK to his quasi-defense of some of the “good people” in the Charlottesville white-supremacist march. Second, Trump’s worldview is not openly racist — he’s not a representative of Richard Spencer–type white supremacism, declaring black Americans lesser, for example. With that in mind, let’s now ask a simple question:
What’s the point of labeling Trump personally a racist?
Tucker, Shapiro and white people in general feel that for something to qualify as racist, it must be accompanied by malicious intent. They’re the type of people who would shoot someone by accident and say, “Don’t you dare start bleeding because I didn’t mean to do it. Plus, it’s only a flesh wound!” For them, if they don’t walk around feeling hate in their hearts for black and brown people, their acts—no matter how offensive—don’t qualify as racist.
The H&M hoodie debacle is a perfect example of how this works. There are very few people—black or white—who believe that there was an executive-level meeting where the marketing department at H&M decided to fuck with Negroes by dressing up a black child in a “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” shirt. They probably didn’t think about black people at all. But the company’s lack of intent doesn’t mean the resulting ad wasn’t racist.
H&M doesn’t get to decide how someone will react to its poor choice of clothing. Neither Donald Trump nor Tucker Carlson can regulate people’s responses to the words coming out of Trump’s shithole. Aziz Ansari doesn’t get to determine how a woman will react to him placing her hand on his dick or sticking his fingers in her mouth.
And none of this is to equate Aziz Ansari with Donald Trump. Neither man will lose his job, and only one of them will be seen as a pariah (hint: it’s the orange one).
In a statement, Ansari acknowledged the incident, saying that the woman privately texted him after the incident and told him how she felt. Ansari said that he “took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.”
There is no way to tell if Ansari truly learned from the incident or changed his behavior. But at least he didn’t explain it away by saying he was the least rapey person in the world, or say that his misconduct never took place. He admitted that it happened and then he shut the fuck up.
White people, I hope you were watching.