Saturday, November 08, 2008

Am I the Jerk?

I was talking to my dad this morning, and we were discussing the election. He was not a supporter of President-Elect Obama (how I love typing that!), and I told him that all week I was going to call and gloat, but decided that I would be nice and not, because he would probably just say something that made me mad.

He just laughed and we kept talking. He did mention that Obama was his president now, too, and that he would support him. Then he said that our economy was a mess and that he hoped Obama would pick great advisers and not just people to whom he owed a favor, like Bush had done. I couldn't believe he was actually acknowledging that Bush was not a perfect president. That's amazing.

At any rate, here's when things went south in our conversation. I mentioned to Dad that Uncle James (who was my mom's brother, and has to be close to 90 by now) had sent me a racist joke email about our new president.

Dad said I should just ignore messages like that. I said that no, I decided to politely ask Uncle James to please not send me emails like that, because I do not support his political views, and I found that particular email offensive. He had already sent me a couple of emails from his preacher about how the only moral choice was to vote McCain/Palin, but this last email was more than I could bear.

My uncle wrote back that he didn't mean to offend me and was sorry, and that he believed that God chooses our country's leaders, so he will support Obama any way that he can. I thought that sounded pretty good, and surprisingly gracious.

Dad did not think I did the right thing. He said, "Didn't you send Shari an email like that awhile back?" Shari is my cousin Jeff's wife, and I had no idea Dad knew I had emailed her, so this is a bad sign. I said that yes, I had made the same request of her. She had sent me this long email about how Obama was not only a radical Muslim, but the Antichrist. I felt I needed to respond. I, again, was really polite about it. I just said that I didn't agree with her, and to please not send me emails of that nature. She wrote back that she didn't mean to offend me, and that I had the right to vote for Obama if I wanted to. Which I thought was kind of her.

But apparently I hurt her feelings. Dad said that she was offended by my email. And that if I ever sent him an email like that, he would probably never speak to me again. I said, "Well fine, I don't want to hear from racists." Dad said that wasn't very nice, and that I should just let things go. That was some fatherly advice from him. He then mentioned that I am a grown woman and can do whatever I want, but that would be how he handled such matters.

So if someone sends me an offensive email, I'm just supposed to ignore it? And attempting to gently inform someone that his or her email is offensive will hurt his or her feelings? That is ridiculous.

I believe in internet etiquette. If I have an email that I know is super liberal and that my family members (other than my sister, who is a bleeding heart like me, thank God) won't agree with, I don't send it to them. I try to be courteous.

I have one friend from back home who sends me lots of annoying emails about illegal immigrants and whatnot, but she does it just to bug me, and we've talked about it, so that's ok. I just ignore them. And occasionally I'll send her a super liberal one, and we get a laugh out of it.

I can handle when my family members send me super evangelical emails -- I can ignore those. I don't think of them as mean-spirited, just annoying and a little insulting, as my religious beliefs are really none of their business and they should stop concerning themselves with my salvation. But they don't make me mad.

But if you send me an email that is clearly racist and offensive, I should not have to just ignore that. You should know that the email is racist and offensive.

For far too long people have just politely ignored (and silently fumed) over comments and jokes that are racist or sexist or simply inappropriate. I've done this at work, at parties, on the bus, and at many, many family gatherings. But when I do that, I'm giving tacit approval to this sort of hatred. I'm not going to do that anymore.

I mean, I'm not going to be a jerk about it. I think I'm super nice about it. And I actually did feel kind of bad sending out those emails, like I was the one doing something wrong and should apologize. But I'm not going to worry about it anymore. And if my Uncle James or my cousin Shari feel like they should never speak to me again, well that's fine, too. I'll get over it. I have plenty of non-racists in my life I'd much rather talk to. Plus, Shari sends all those annoying hoax emails about horrible things that happen to you at gas stations and whatnot. I don't know why the woman can't look stuff up on before she hits the forward key. But that's a separate email.

So I guess I'm wondering how other people handle this sort of situation. Do you just ignore it? Or do you say or email something to the other person? I'm looking for some support here, because I'm starting to feel kind of guilty. I hate feeling guilty. (Southern mothers perfected the art of making their children feel guilty -- my mom gave it to me in spades. And my dad knows how to do it to me, too. It's very annoying.)


Alannah said...

I (of course) think you handled both situations correctly. There's also the case of what do you do when you receive an email that is just plain UNTRUTHFUL, such as in the case of that "Obama is a Muslim" email that refused to die. I think it is our duty to refute emails that are full of lies.

I think there are a lot of hurt feelings and a bit of sore loserdom after this election here in the racist, bigoted south. :(

D.I. said...

Well, now that you know I am a devoted (albeit new) reader of your blog, I will leave a comment. I too have been the recipient of many emails and comments these last few months that I found offensive. I force myself NOT to read the email when I see it is going in the down direction. I have asked various senders to not send me emails. Some responded with such hostility that I asked that they just never email me. Some people are just plain old ignorant. Fortunately, although we can't change other people, we can try to raise our children to be kind, tolerant and loving people.