The origins of the phrase, ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ are Biblical, but the practice lies deep in my Midwestern farming roots. As farmers would thresh the wheat across the rolling farmland, they had to separate the actual grains from the stalks, hulls and spikelets, thus saving the valuable wheat grains and discarding the rest. The ‘rest’ was referred to as chaff, the worthless part of the harvest.
Participating in social media as of late has resulted in the resurrection of my Midwestern farming skills as I have once again mastered the skill of separating the valuable people with whom I choose to engage from those who contribute to the toxic cesspool of our cyber lives.
The harvest of comments in the aftermath of the Grand Jury announcement last week allowed the light-weight chaff to surface and bury the valuable grains of thoughtful commentary to the bottom. In order to harvest the thoughtful insights that many people have attempted to proffer, endless tons of scarcely concealed and sometimes-outright racism bubbled straight to the top.
Don’t get me wrong – this was a valuable exercise. I’ve learned a lot this week about those with whom I regularly communicate but don’t personally know. Some who claimed to hold Progressive ideals began using words to describe Michael Brown such as ‘criminal’, ‘animal’ and my favorite, ‘thug’. One individual in particular, after posting a story about an unarmed white kid shot by a black cop commented, “Where was your outrage?”, got the reply, “Same place it’s always been – defending the defenseless. I’m uncertain as to why you believe I don’t find this offensive.” The reply: “Well, I didn’t see you writing about THIS one!” My answer a simple, “14 young unarmed black men have been shot by police since Michael Brown’s murder and you’re upset with me because I didn’t ignore all those and write about one unarmed white kid shot by a black cop? Do you hear yourself?” The retort: “Michael Brown was a THUG!” My final reply was a simple, “Can we drop all pretense and just start referring to him as a ‘nigger’?” And that was the moment I blocked that individual and felt immediately better for it, regardless of the 5 year back and forth we had enjoyed.
You see, from the outset, that person looked like a perfectly healthy stalk of wheat. Problem is, until something like this happens and it’s time for harvest, you can’t really see there was nothing of value inside the hull. The grain was blighted to the core with racism.
In an attempt to be fair, I wrote about a police officer in Denver who talked down a kid with Asberger’s Syndrome who, with his parents had moved into a new apartment, new environment (always a challenge for kids dealing with this autism spectrum), the father was a few days away from a paycheck and there was no food in the house. This officer, well trained, talked the kid down, took him out for a meal and returned him calmly home to grateful parents. That cop didn’t have to do that. I pointed out that if there were more officers who took the time to talk to and understand the citizens with whom they were dealing and act appropriately the police would once again enjoy the good reputation they once had. For that comment, I was called a bigot, an idiot, a bitch and a cunt. There are ‘block’ features on virtually every form of social media that allow me to separate the wheat from the chaff.
If I impart nothing else in this essay, it is to say that I defend freedom of speech, even stupid, hateful and hurtful speech. Why? Because it helps me to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re not shouting ‘FIRE’ in a crowded movie theatre, you have the absolute right to voice your opinion in this country. I will defend that and add a salvo: you don’t get to complain when I bitch-slap your bigoted ass across Twitter or Facebook when you do it. I’m not trying to silence you. I’m not on a fool’s errand to try and explain your ignorance to you. I want people who follow me to see that conversation and understand there’s a reasonable way to have a conversation without using racial epithets and dog whistles. Funny thing about those dog whistles though – if I can hear it, it’s not a dog whistle. It’s someone trying to be coy about their racism but I’ve never been one to suffer fools.
Case in point: this weekend, Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), decided to make a combined attack on the President, the First Lady and both of the Obama daughters. While the President was participating in the tradition of the ‘pardoning of the turkey’, the First Kids were standing next to their father looking someone bored and sometimes embarrassed at their father’s bad jokes. Ms. Lauten took to her employer’s Facebook page to post this:
Worse, she went on to reply to posters that the First Daughters were dressed like bar sluts and it only got worse from there. But social media is an awful/wondrous thing sometimes. The backlash against going after Sasha and Malia Obama in a thinly veiled partisan attack against their parents did not sit well with observers. The post was removed but of course, on the Intertubes, nothing can be erased. Ever. Finally, the apology went up and it went something like this: “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no pace in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.”
I responded to a social media posting: “I find it hard to believe this adult Christian woman required many hours of prayer and a need to consult her mama and daddy before coming to the conclusion that attacking teenagers for ‘standing while black’ was wrong. As an Atheist, I was able to take the ‘Decency Training Wheels’ off at a very early age.”
The backlash against me was strong and immediate. “Both sides do it. Sarah Palin was sitting quietly at a baseball game doing nothing and she was attacked by David Letterman, so shove your outrage.”
To which I replied: “First, I don’t believe I did express outrage. Second, these were two teenage girls, dressed appropriately, looking bored and standing next to the leader of the free world. One of them wasn’t pregnant out of wedlock; they weren’t exchanging punches in a drunken street fight, using foul language on social media or negotiating deals for their reality TV shows or even Dancing With The Stars. Please note this is a no smoking section, so please, drag that smoldering cross right the fuck on out of here.” And then I blocked him, to be forever forgotten.
I’d like to take a moment to apologize to my parents for riding me about all those farm chores. Turns out there were skills in there I’m using to this very day. Extensive experience with bullshit allows one to know when they’re stepping in and know when they’re just hearing it. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Block. Check. On the upside, Ms. Lauten has found herself this morning without a job. She’s ‘resigning’, yeah. Resigning. When I fire people, I allow them to resign too – especially when I agree with what they did but find their actions too toxic to be associated with my reputation, right Congressman?
As I write, this just came across my desk. Ms. Lauten, renowned Christian paragon of virtue and all knowing about proper teen etiquette, was allegedly arrested in 2000 on a charge of misdemeanor larceny. She was a first time offender, so she was told to ‘go forth and sin no more’ at the tender age of 17. So, I’m guessing she was wearing some sort of nun outfit while shoplifting and didn’t look like someone ‘looking for a spot at the bar’ while she was borrowing goods from a local department store – to donate to the poor, no doubt. *This tends to be the problem with the finger-waggers. Sometimes people start vetting your credentials and find these pearls. Now, I haven’t had a chance to search for her arrest record, so I’m not saying this is true, but some say it is. Sorry for channeling Fox News there for a second.
And finally, yesterday the St. Louis Rams football team took to the field for some good ole’ Murican football. Except… the wrong-coloreds on the team decided to make a social statement and stood on the sidelines in a ‘Hands up! Don’t Shoot!’ position that has become so iconic to Ferguson and the St. Louis area. This morning, the St. Louis police union took to the airwaves to denounce these players, demanding punishment, demanding suspension and demanding a public apology. I’m guessing you don’t have to have any sort of wild imagination to know what my social media feed looks like this morning.
Remember when I said I’m a hard line proponent of free speech? I am. The same people who defended Darren Wilson’s reported half million-dollar interview to announce that he had no regrets about shooting Mike Brown and would do it again, all the while spinning his fantastical magical tale? Those are the same people wanting the blood of those Rams players. I particularly loved Wilson’s account about how he felt like a 5 year old in the arms of this hulking brute with a demonic expression who ‘kicked up dust’ when ‘it’ charged the 5 year old who had been beaten to within an inch of his life? I can’t thank Officer Wilson enough for going on national television to spin that yarn. People with far more police training, far more legal training and far more civil rights knowledge have pointed out the grave errors in his version. While I never assigned intent to the shooting up to that point, Wilson dispelled any illusion I may have had that he was merely young and inexperienced. That interview showed just how deep his prejudices ran against the largely black community he was sworn to serve and protect. Those same people who defended Darren Wilson’s right to go on national television to further defame a teenager who is still too dead to defend himself are the same ones complaining this morning about the actions of the black St. Louis Rams players. They like freedom of speech when it applies to their beliefs. They demand retribution against those with whom they disagree.
So when the Darren Wilson apologists appear on my feed while simultaneously condemning the Rams players, it’s a simple ‘block’ by this point. Talking to these people serves no purpose and engagement is often quite toxic.
Separate the wheat from the chaff.
The absolute upside of the racial divide has taken me from wondering if someone is a bigot to knowing someone is a bigot. While it’s absolutely heart-breaking to learn someone you liked and respected has been caught with their white sheet showing, I promise you it’s better that you know now and simply block them. I’ve spent a week ripping off a lot of band-aids rather than try to give someone a chance, prolonging the inevitable.
I’d like to openly thank my social media friends of all races, all creeds, all colors, and all sexual orientations during these trying times. I’ve not always been kind, though I’ve tried. Not once, when outing the bigots and using the same ugly vernacular, have they scolded me or misunderstood my intentions. Interesting that my real friends and regular contacts didn’t require an explanation. They too, are givers. That happens when you have an actual attention span.
In closing, knowing I have a lot of people who follow my social media commentary I’ve affectionately dubbed them ‘My Minions’, though they have proven themselves to be the most free-thinking individuals, never afraid to call me on my shit or point out when I’m staging a nutty, yet they affectionately embrace the label. After a particularly tough week, I signed off the other night with this: Minions, these are trying times. Be good to one another. Be givers. But when it comes to the race-baiters, you have my permission to show no mercy and take no prisoners. Block them when you get tired of them turning your serene lake into a toxic cesspool. Life is too short. And remember… in years to come, people will talk about how we were on the right side of history. I’m terribly proud of you all. The countless quiet, positive, one word feedback and hearts of love were all I needed to know that I was on the right path.
Make your social media experience a positive one. It’s your space. Do not be afraid to post your own ‘No Smoking’ sign and when someone enters dragging a smoldering cross or a homophobic slur or a sexist commentary…