I was standing on a street corner doing drugs. Cigarettes, the worst drug of all. It has the shittiest of all the highs, but still is the most insidious drug of them all. It’s only redeeming quality is that brings people together, and that's how I found myself standing outside of a bar talking to a guy I know. That's an official designation, ‘guy I know.’ We weren’t friends, I'd met him a few times so we knew each other, but we also weren't really acquaintances. He was just a ‘guy I know.’
He was a nice guy, an artist, friendly, down to earth. It was always nice to chat with him, but he was out of sorts that night.
The previous night he'd been mugged by a bunch of dudes downtown. They took his phone and wallet, and they gave him a bit of a beating. He was physically OK, but he was still emotionally shaken, he was frustrated, he felt helpless and impotent, so I listened as he talked. There was a moment where I could see he on the verge of starting to cry. It's such an incredibly vulnerable place to be, looking at him I could see a helpless little kid still inside the man. I know that moment, I’ve felt that helpless little kid inside of me. I thInk we all have.
And then he said it.
“Every time something like this happens it's always the same, it's always black guys. I don't want to hear anymore of this Black Lives Matter bullshit. I'm fucking sick and tired of this shit.”
It was a peculiar moment. A second before I genuinely liked the guy and felt bad for him, but then suddenly I was supposed to be angry with him, because it makes me angry when people say racist bullshit like that. For some reason though I didn't react with anger, instead I was surprised.
“Really? It's always been black guys?”
He looked me in the eyes and said it was, and I'm certain he was being honest.
“That's weird, because for me it's always been the opposite.” I said “Everyone that beat me or fucked me over was white.”
He looked at me, mirroring my own surprise. “Really?”
“Yeah, but to be fair, where I grew up, there was only white people around. If you only meet white people, I guess all the assholes are going to be white. That’s just logic. But assholes are everywhere. Where did you grow up?”
Turned out he had grown up in a predominantly black neighborhood. He was the different kid and that made him a target. Just like I had been a target for the assholes in my neighborhood, only I was different for different reasons. Assholes don’t really care why you are different, just that you are. We had been essentially the same kid in similar circumstances, but with a slight twist.
I said “well I guess that explains it, if you are only around one type of person, all the asholes will be that one type. But it doesn’t mean white people are assholes, and neither are black people. Some assholes are black and others are white, but essentially people are people no matter what their color”
“I’d never thought of it like that.” he replied.
That moment made me think about my privilege in a new way. It had never occurred to me that part of my privilege was that it’s been easy for me to not be overtly racist. My parents taught me to not be racist, I never had bad experiences with people who were different from me and the bad people I met were, in fact, just like me from a racial and cultural perspective. I had friends whose parents were racist, but I had the education to recognize it and dismiss it. Once again I realized I’ve had it easy, and I needed to consider that others don’t have it as easy. If I’d merely dismissed his bigotry I never would have been able to change it.
In no way am I saying we don’t have a duty to openly, clearly and loudly speak out against racism and hate, quite the opposite. Seeing the news from Charlottesville this week made me think think about my family. I’ve been blessed to become part a wonderful Jewish family. My wife is Jewish, my kids are Jewish. My mother and fathers in law, my sisters and brother in law and my nephews are all Jewish. When I saw people marching under the swastika and shouting Nazi slogans I felt that in a way I never expected to feel in my life. It was no longer just a thing I’d learned about, it was personal. I knew in that moment that I will, without hesitation, lay down my life to end this fucking movement if that’s what is required.
But then I saw Obama tweet Nelson Mandela’s quote, and that made me think about ‘that guy’ and how I was able to teach him. I realized that it’s not enough to simply fight hard, we must also fight smart. We cannot beat propaganda with violence, that only makes it stronger.
The world is polarized right now and that has been a deliberate act by the fascists. They know that when the world is polarized, people cling to what is familiar and attack what is unfamiliar. They have used this tactic to grow their movement, they used this tactic to win Trump the Presidency. They continue use this tactic to keep us yelling at each other instead of talking with each other. Fascism needs us to play the role of the enemy, that keeps the fear and hatred alive, and that is what gives them power over their followers. We must not play into that role. We are not the enemy, we are society. Hatred is the enemy of society, not the other way around. This is not just about our hearts, it’s also about our minds, we must think before we react or we risk playing into their plans.
This is an important time in our history, we must be loud and we must be clear. Whenever we are faced with a fascist movement like this we must do everything to kill it. But this movement will never die from one giant blow, it will be a death by a thousand cuts. When we face this movement we need to stand resolute and be prepared to spill our own blood, but there will be times when we will only be facing ‘that guy’, and then we must be prepared to listen and educate them so we can steal them from the movement, each one a tiny little cut. Because a movement is nothing without people. We beat fascism by fighting ignorance, because without ignorance fascism has no soil to grow. We cannot teach individuals if we yell at them, they will simply seek their education elsewhere.
This isn’t always going to work, sometimes they will refuse to listen, in every war battles are won and lost. These are not easy times. However we must remember that denying the individual is the tactic of fascism, we need to be smarter than that. Hate and fear are the tactics of fascism, we need to more compassionate than that. We need to teach their followers that their leaders are wrong and evil. We must stand against ideas while trying to bring people together.
We must march and counter protest. We must stand and show the world that fascism will not be tolerated in society. But that alone is not enough, we must also educate the world that fascism doesn’t change society, it corrodes it. So when you encounter ‘that guy you know’ remember, it doesn’t matter that you are right, even though it feels so righteous and good, what matters is how persuasive you are.
Because this one is too important to lose. We need to beat this evil motherfucking movement from every angle possible.