I got into my first Facebook fight ever a couple of weeks back. I am mostly a voyeur on social media, swiping my index finger at a quick pace until I stop at something that looks just engaging or pathetic enough to read. On a rare occasion, I will click like or write a comment. So, I’m not really sure why I reacted so quickly when a friend texted me a screenshot of an offensive post. I felt a rage inside me immediately. It was as if I was about to turn green and double in size.
Let me give you some background first. The woman who wrote the post lives locally. It is crystal clear from her social media accounts that she is a Trump supporter and a staunch Republican. I had unfollowed her years ago, but not because of this—I actually find hardcore righters’ comments entertaining. It was because her page is like a backdrop for a Currier and Ives lithograph, everything seems just a little too perfect. Home-baked pies and nature views fill her wall. Yes, I know it’s her account, and she can decorate it how she likes. She exceeded my allotment of eye-rolls, though, so I exercised my FB powers and made her vanish by selecting UNFOLLOW. (That means that I stop seeing her posts but remain FB friends. She doesn’t know, and I can still see her page if I want.)
When the struggle to reopen the states began some weeks back—even when Covid-19 was still gaining ground at a rapid pace—people had their strong opinions as usual. Well, sure enough, she had hers. These were the words she wrote: “My poor boys are stuck in Michigan with Hitler as governor.” My inner voice, who also has her strong points of view, thought, “Hmmm, I don’t like that. I really don’t like that.” And, with a mind fueled by anger and disgust, I struck back: “This is highly offensive. Are your sons being ripped out of their homes and being sent to starve at concentration camps before they are gassed to death in a shower? How dare you use this analogy, whether it’s used historically or not. You have now officially joined the ranks of ignorance. Stick to showing off what you’ve baked and cooked.” I followed it up quickly with, “Let’s see if you leave my comment up here if you’re so sure your Hitler reference was ok to use.” (Please note that before I commented, another follower had questioned her comparison of Hitler, and she said something to the effect that it had been used throughout history, so she felt it was fine to use that reference.)
I’m guessing some of you are thinking I was I too harsh and aggressive and maybe even too sensitive. Maybe I was, but at the time, it felt right. Please let me explain the obvious undertones of her comment: I’m Jewish, so her comparison of a Democratic governor to Hitler, a man who tried to wipe out Jewish people and other ethnicities with torture and murder, does not sit well with me. But, I wrote this on behalf of every person with a moral conscience, not just Jews. I wrote this to protest ignorance and prejudice. I wrote this to try and put all people, like this woman, in their place and maybe enlighten them even just a little. I’ve never before had such a visceral reaction to a post. Anger was only part of the equation here: The lump in my throat proved I was much more than enraged. I wanted to cry as I strangled her verbally.
She responded right away and said, “[Reggie], my boys are not complaining. I am. And you know me and know I meant no offense. This is a reference that even my Jewish friends have used. Sorry if you were hurt by this comment.” I give her credit for saying her sorry, but there it was—the some-of-my-best-friends-are-[insert any minority group here] excuse. After I challenged her to leave up my post, she typed: “I am. I am offended that you think I would do otherwise.” I found it interesting that she chose to use the word “offended,” after she just offended a massive amount of people. Her next comment was this: “Ok let me change it to dictator to better get my point across.” And, then she did change “Hitler” to “dictator” in an apparent act of mercy and compassion to massage her original prejudicial slur by using a title instead. Wow, bless her heart. A different FB friend of hers then made an “oh boy” kind of a comment, to which she responded, “Nothing like distorting what my intention was. People should know me better. I guess I have to choose my words wisely.” So, now I had distorted her intention, on top of offending her. Yep, I’m the bad guy here. She’s a hell of a lot craftier than I had thought.
From there, a complete stranger attacked me by saying I was way over-the-top. Another of her friends said that there are other governors that act like Hitler. And, another said she stood by her and by “our president.” There was even mention of Larry David using the Hitler reference often. (Doesn’t that make it okay?) This woman kept defending herself throughout and was eating up the support she was receiving from her web of virtual friends. I checked back on the comments from time to time. I didn’t post another word, and I didn’t have to. This woman was seemingly falling apart for hours after my post. Without intending to, I had shot an arrow right through her aortic valve, and she was working hard to keep it from bleeding out all over the place. Unlike her acknowledgment of needing to choose her words wisely, I had chosen mine wisely. I insulted her but left out any mention of politics or religion. Rhetoric, implication and exaggeration were my friends here. I have my collective group of English and writing teachers to thank for this.
The next morning, the friend who had sent me the post told me that the woman had taken down the entire exchange from her wall. When I went to look myself, I wasn’t surprised to find out she had unfriended me. So, not only did she delete the posts (though she had said she wouldn’t), she banished me for good. I can admit that I would have done the exact same thing. It was—for lack of a better word—a yucky experience. While I don’t regret my comments, I now know why I had never stood up to an offensive post. It’s just not worth it. I wanted to believe that my words would have somehow opened the eyes of at least one person. I know it didn’t, though. I’m not changing anyone’s deep-held beliefs or ignorance through a FB post. An eye-roll would have had the same effect here—none. Some of my friends said what I wrote was great and they were proud of me, but I only received one like, and it wasn’t even from the friend who alerted me. I don’t need applause, but a little real-time support would have felt good.
I’d be a fool to think that this current atmosphere had nothing to do with my reaction, because of course it did. Our society is on edge, because we are filled with fear from not having a complete picture of what is going on now. Will there be mass testing or a vaccine? When will we be able to leave our homes, be with friends, go to a beach, travel or go to a restaurant? It hurts to watch our kids miss school, proms, sports, camp and the stuff of golden childhoods. I have to go weeks at at time without seeing my boyfriend, and that’s really upsetting, too. The political climate that flows right into how this pandemic is being handled is just too disheartening to bear sometimes. That’s why this woman’s words stung. This environment has made it okay for her to advertise her discrimination, no matter how she tries to veil it, and the hate felt palpable to me. I am sorry for how it all played out, but I’m not at all sorry for what I said.
I dedicate this blog to my cousin Shirley, who is fighting Covid-19. She’s 85 and getting stronger. I love that she manages to still joke around and laugh. A fabulous baker, she used to send my family pastries every year. My father bit down on something really hard once. He called Shirley and said, “Are you missing a gold ring?” She laughed then, too.
*Names have been changed.
**Tap on the FOLLOW button at the bottom of your phone or computer. (Move your finger or mouse around, and FOLLOW will appear if it’s hidden.) You have to open the email the site sends you to complete the FOLLOW process. Thank you from this woman and her popped cork.