Saturday, June 12, 2010

A summer project of sorts: saving racist e-mail

Having spent a previous life in the U.S. military, I had to get pretty good at navigating institutional racism, and figuring out when people were being racist racist, being ignorant of history, or just occasionally pushing my buttons. (The last is actually a type of testing boundaries, of acceptance, of letting you into the club/treehouse; the first two are a type of rejection of you and your identity.)

I'm still in touch with some people I served with, all races, ethnicities, genders, creeds and orientations. I would go to the mat for a few of them to this day, and vice versa. Others, I wouldn't give a Heimlich to if they were choking on a salmonella-infested chicken nugget at the next table.

Anyway, there are a few who can't quite leave the military life behind, and their e-mail proves it. They rarely if ever update you on themselves or their families. They forward a lot of kick-ass photos of tanks, carrier landings, missile firings and such, as well as jokes that may have once evoked a chuckle in the geek's row during a middle-school assembly. All in good fun until they go political, then it gets strange.

There used to be a rule: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and especially Saturdays-- no, sorry, that's an old Woody Allen routine about a moose--

There used to be a rule: Pick on Democrats as weak on defense, suck up to Republicans because they'll always increase the defense budget, no questions asked, and don't acknowledge third parties at all unless fronted by verified ex-military guys like Ross Perot. Be courteous to a Democratic Commander-in-Chief because you honor the office, but that's as far as you have to go. They picked on Carter, even after living with Nixon. They picked on Clinton. So it's no surprise that since January 2009, ex-military folks whose bell-curved lives peaked when they were on active duty are picking on President Obama.

What has changed is that they can't help but bring non-political factors into the criticism. So the occasional e-mail about our current CINC is colored by thinly veiled remarks and asides, undue emphasis on the Hussein in Barack Hussein Obama, and questions about patriotism and citizenship that never would have arisen in previous Democratic administrations. (To be fair, there was a brief kerfuffle in the early '90s about a young Clinton visiting the Soviet Union as a student, but it was so darned minor as to be a non-issue.)

So this morning I was about to put one of my former colleagues on notice. Did he, a white veteran, forget I was black, or did he just think I was right of center? I wanted to tell him to cut the crap with his mass e-mails, or just not say anything to him and send everything from him to my spam folder. Then I realized that in an election year it would be nice to track what he was sending, to see if it really went over the top and pegged my race-ometer. So I'm not going to call him on it just yet. I'm going to track the mail over the summer and separate the merely patriotic and "support-the-troops" items from the treasonous, seditionist, anti-Presidential items. If it turns out there's a substantial amount of the latter, I may put my students on the case as part of their fall election-tracking. If there's a teachable moment in there I will call it making lemonade out of some quite racist lemons.

Everybody needs a hobby, right?

No comments: