After You’ve Tried Everything

October 8th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

I’m a racism denier. I admit it. My first go-to rationale for why people behave like jerks is never going to be racism. I am an optimist after all. Maybe they just had a bad day, maybe something you said pushed a button, maybe it’s just their personality to be like that, maybe, maybe, maybe. I’ll try every possible option before I consider racism (or any other ism) as the reason for someone being a jerk.

My advice for folks who experience someone being a jerk is typically the same regardless of how they act. I was raised Catholic after all. I was taught to turn the other cheek and that’s what I pass on as seemingly sound advice. Kill them with kindness and they will learn that you are the better person, that it pays to be kind, and that they should feel bad for what they’ve done.

That doesn’t always work. I’m a realist after all. This type of response could even fuel the fire of that person being a jerk by acquiescing to the dominance jerk is exerting, allowing the jerk to take advantage of this dominance, and putting the burden of that person being a jerk onto the victim.

Rather than facilitating that cycle, I usually don’ take my own advice and instead use an alternate theoretically-based strategy. I am a theorist after all. There is plenty of theory to support that one particular alternate strategy could be more successful. Social Identity Theory in particular suggests that

1) self worth is a basic psychological need.
2) we gain self worth from the identities we take on.
3) our identities are tied to the identities of others.
4) we feel better about our identities when they match the identities of those around us.
5) a shared group identity is known as our ingroup.
6) for our self worth to increase we must highly value our ingroup identities.
7) polarizing ingroups (those group identities we relate to) in positive ways and outgroups (those group identities we don’t relate to) in negative ways allows us increase our self worth even more.

So essentially, we make ourselves feel better by making others feel bad. Hence, the jerk acts like a jerk to outgroup members but is sweet to ingroup members. If you can switch the jerk’s perception of you as an outgroup member to an ingroup member, then the jerk will have a vested interest in seeing you positively. This alternate strategy has helped both my myself and my daughter when we have been confronted by bullies.

When I was 13, I was picked on in high school by one girl in particular. One day she tried to get my attention by saying “Hey, Anasta, Anastac, Anastaia or whatever the hell your name is!” I responded saying, “Why are you picking on me when you don’t even know anything about me … not even my name?” It forced her not to see me as an enemy worthy of her contempt. It forced her to see us as both strangers to each other not knowing anything about the other. Certainly not knowing enough to bully. By redefining our group memberships to be in the ingroups of strangers she was able to see me as similar to herself, empathize with me, and gain self worth by not picking on me as she would an outgroup member. She never picked on me again.

When my daughter was 5, she was picked on in kindergarten by one boy in particular. One day the boy went so far as to rip up one of her newly made drawings. She looked at him in the eye and asked innocently, “Why are you always so mean to me?” It forced him not to see her as a weakling worthy of his disdain. It forced him to see her as a person that didn’t like people being mean to her. I’m sure he saw himself the same way. By redefining their group membership to be ingroup members of people who don’t like it when people are mean he was able to relate to her and take her question at face value. His answer was simply a shrug of his shoulders. Her response took the point home. “So, if you don’t know why you are doing it then can you stop?” Now seeing her as an ingroup member he was able to gain self worth by siding with her. “Ok.” He said and then walked away. They’d say hello to each other in the hallways for the rest of the school year.

When someone is a jerk, I always try to diffuse the situation not by turning the other cheek but by giving them a reason to view me differently ala social identity theory. I am a proactive person after all. Redefining group membership so that we are aligned with those who are jerks to us as ingroup members instead of outgroup members can be a powerful tool to diffuse someone who is a jerk. To me, it’s an early and simple step to respond to someone who is a jerk. It’s my go-to strategy before I assume racism, sexism, or any other kind of ism.

So, I am a racism denier. I can never know with 100% accuracy what are any single person’s intentions. I am not a mind reader after all. Rather than starting with racism as a rational for someone being a jerk, I try to exhaust all other possibilities first.

So I’ve been watching in the news the cases of presumed racism by the police against black males in particular. I watched one clip on CNN yesterday that has haunted me since I watched it.

Forget about race for a minute.

You are driving in your car and get pulled over for not having your seat belt on. How do you perceive that in your mind? Cop just doing their job? Strange thing to get pulled over for? Grateful for the officer’s due diligence? Pain in the bu** because you have places to go and people to see? Regardless of how you perceive it you pull over, wait for the officer to approach the car, patiently and slowly follow the officer’s instructions for driver’s license and registration.

The police office turns his or her direction to the passenger. How do you perceive this? Legitimate? Unusual? Bothersome? Laudible? Regardless, you try to respond to the police officer’s questions as does your passenger.

Your passenger, not you, is asked to come out of the car? Your kids are in the back seat. You haven’t been given a reason for why your passenger needs to come out of the car. Your questions aren’t being answered by the police officer. How do you perceive this? What would you encourage or discourage your passenger from doing?

You try to explain your concerns to the police officer. Maybe you mention that sometimes people dress up as police officers so how do you know he is legitimate. Maybe you explain that you don’t understand why the situation has become elevated to from a seat belt issue where you’ve complied with everything the officer has asked to a situation where the passenger is being asked to step out of the car? Maybe you explain that you have children in the car and you are worried about them having a clear understanding of the law enforcement system and want it to be a learning moment for them to understand their rights and responsibilities in these types of situations? Maybe you mention that there has been a considerable amount of violence against people who look like your passenger and without any rationale for why he needs to step out of the car you are reluctant to ask him to do so? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?

Whatever you say almost doesn’t matter as long as you are trying to come up with strategies to explain your concerns about having your passenger getting out of the car. You are talking, you are answering questions, you are laying all your cards on the table for why you don’t think this is a safe thing to do. You’ve basically tried turning the other cheek and tried applying social identity theory by engaging in a discussion of your concerns as equals (concerned citizen and dutiful police office) about what you perceive as a dangerous situation. You’ve tried everything you could.

I know some people who saw the clip- and CNN newscasters mentioned this as well- may say, “Why didn’t he just get out of the car?” But if you think about it like I laid it out earlier it’s not that simple. If you sincerely believe that the safety and well being of your family is being threatened doing the thing that would put you in the most dangerous situation that you are in fear of simply isn’t an option.

Sure he could have gotten out of the car. He had the physical ability to do so.

Red flags were going up the entire time during the pullover to indicate there was something out of the ordinary going on. Indeed, the police officer ended up shattering the window and using a taser on the man. This suggests the driver’s instincts were not entirely off-base here.

Short of coming out of the car, they were doing everything else requested. They didn’t flee the scene. They didn’t act in aggressive ways in the car. They tried to engage in a discussion wherein they explained their concerns. They tried everything.

When all else fails, you’ve tried everything, and you’ve acted in ways that were reasonable to act using legitimate strategies to accomplish mutual goals to the extent possible, and you are still treated differently, then even I would say, yes, it’s racism.

Be Sociable, Share!
No comments yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.