Crying Wolf

Remember the Aesop fable about the little boy who cried wolf? He was a shepherd and due to boredom, childhood mischief, or some other malady (pathological lying perhaps?) would often cry out: help, there’s a wolf attacking my flock. The villagers would come a-running only to find no wolf and no attack in progress. One day a wolf did show up to attack his flock, but when he called out for help, none of the villagers came because of all of his previous trickery. The Greek version states the moral of this story as such:

this shows how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them

“Crying wolf” is a common critique that I receive regarding my posts and thoughts about  casual/passive racism  and microaggressions. The issue is too small, too obscure, not obvious enough to be actual racism — I mean nobody died, right?  So why are you complaining? It generally sounds like this:

Seriously, can’t people have a sense of humor anymore? Why  are people soooo sensitive? I think you’re reaching on this cause I don’t see it. There are people being killed in the streets now and you want to focus on this?? You know, if you look hard enough, I’m sure you can see racism in anything. if everything is racist then NOTHING is racist. You’re trivializing racism by calling this racism.

It’s all “crying wolf” remixed.  If you call this small thing — like the awful Calvin Trillin poem in the New Yorker — racism, then how can we possibly believe that racism in the form of police brutality is real???  (Um…you mean other than the billions of videos shared on social media or the constant flood of studies about how racism actually exists?) People who use this seem to believe that pointing out the kind of racism that isn’t likely to kill you immediately is, at best, a form of distraction from “real issues” and, at worst, that you are engaging in some type of falsehood. They basically believe that Racism = death, the n word,  or burning crosses.

I’m always confused by this type of argument.  Racism isn’t an either/or type of proposition, but rather a “yes and..” It’s a system. And I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again once more for the people in the back: it’s literally everywhere.

Think of racism as a piece of Ikea furniture (maybe like this one) already put together and standing proudly in your bathroom. It’s composed of many different parts of various shapes and sizes with different functions. All of the parts  are working together to produce this sink (or uphold systemic discrimination based on race), but you don’t see all of those parts at once. This sink is such a normative part of your life and culture, that you don’t even think about what is holding it up. You walk by it every day and never once question what keeps it standing. In fact, due to their size alone (or your own cultural blindspots), you may not even recognize that a dowel is that important, but it is a piece of the system and plays a role in maintaining the sink standing upright nonetheless.

What is starting to happen is that people are dismantling the sink, exposing all of those dowels and screws and other small parts that keep the cabinets on tightly as well as revealing the large hulking pieces (like the marble sink) that are likely to kill you. It’s all linked together.

My pointing out that the Gap Ad was problematic doesn’t in any way invalidate my other posts about police brutality; both can be true (and fought against) at the same time. Remember it’s not either/or. It isn’t a mutually exclusive situation. I can support the Equal Justice Initiative, protesting against injustice in the criminal justice system AND I can protest the use of black bodies (women in particular) as props because representation in media contributes to stereotypes which informs jurors’ decisions and the follow on sentencing handed down by judges. It’s all connected.

Everyone has cultural blindspots (me included) and so you may not understand or see why other people (even people of the same race) have an issue with a specific ad or movie or poem or what have you. But instead of wagging your finger and warning them about “crying wolf”, imagine instead that they have a different sized Allen wrench in their hand and they are working on dismantling a  different piece of the sink than you.

I consider this blog my Allen wrench. Happy dismantling.



4 Comment on “Crying Wolf

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