Better Woke than Safe?
During the last politically and racially charged month, I have learned two things:
1) people are abandoning their natural instincts and common sense, afraid to call out bad behavior lest they seem insensitive or racist, and 2) real men don't ask for directions.
I live in the wokest of all neighborhoods. Every other yard has a Black Lives Matter sign, many since before the 2016 election, along with the "Hate Has No Home Here" signs uniformly put out on November 9, 2016. To its credit, my town is incredibly diverse, where social awareness is high and racial tensions surprisingly low. But we do have crime.
A few weeks ago, during the first week of the peaceful George Floyd protests and the start of the rioting and looting, I became a "victim." Early one morning, in front of a school playground, a young man drove up and asked me for directions to the high school, a well known landmark. When I approached his open car window, he "flashed" me. Since this was not my first rodeo, I just threw up my hands and walked away. As he sped off, I got most of his license plate number, ready to call the police. At this very racially charged moment, do I report the fact that a young black man indecently exposed himself to me? Knowing that this is more about protecting the next victim, who might be a child, I made a report. When the officer (extremely professional and reassuring) informed me she would be recording my statement on her body cam, I wondered: could this recording somehow be twisted into making me look like that nasty woman falsely reporting an attack by a quiet black male birdwatcher in Central Park? I made a calculation to be courageous and take the risk. Report made. Turns out he had tried to do the same thing to a neighbor earlier. Pervert modus operandi was established: drive up, ask for obvious directions while exposing private parts and possibly more.
Fast-forward: on my neighborhood Next Door site, someone posted about an identical incident. The question was posed: should the woman make a police report? The fact that the new victim was hesitating to report this, and that neighbors were soliciting a consensus on what to do, was sadly not surprising. Check out any neighborhood COVID site, and you will see just how many people are confused by common sense. The Next Door post generated follow-up questions about car, license plate, where, when, and a physical description. That's where things turned nasty. Quite a few people asked for a description, which elicited an initial response of "why do you need that, isn't the car enough?" There ensued a debate about whether it is necessary to include the race of a perpetrator in the physical description posted as a warning to others, that maybe "there are times when the perpetrator's skin color is unnecessary or superfluous." Quite a few people called this out and said we shouldn't have to tiptoe around an accurate description. One person succinctly summarized the real issue, writing:
I strongly suspect that in these "woke" times people are fearful of saying anything that might be construed as "racist" or "insensitive"...to the point that everyone's safety maybe compromised as basic need to know info is not communicated for fear of "sounding" politically incorrect.
This debate is not new or unique. Last September, a similar one came up on a neighborhood block party Facebook page about a group of youths who crashed the block party, stole bikes, and broke into backyards. The spiteful debate that followed became a competition as to which neighbor was more woke!
The confusion and concerns spurring on these debates, in the wake of the current political and racial climate, are playing out in our everyday lives and human interactions. When I look around the world captured on social media, I am reminded of the proverbial high school cafeteria where everyone is afraid of not fitting in or eating alone. Because of the COVID pandemic's effect on normal human interactions and activity, these sites have become the standard for monitoring behavior. The problem is, in the somewhat anonymous virtual world, people write things they would never say to a person directly. They are no longer checked by the nuances of actual face-to-face interactions that standardize our behavior and common sense. It is now seeping into our everyday real lives.
So what are we being asked to do? Has "the right thing" changed? Does race no longer factor into a description of an offender if he can be described in many other ways? Does the fear of racial profiling shield an offender who might otherwise be caught? And in checking our semantics, are we underreporting or mischaracterizing truly bad behavior? At best, it is baffling, but at its worst, IT reduces the real issue of how to prevent a future sexual assault to an exercise in wokeness or sensitivity. Therein lies the problem.
The genuine confusion in all this points to something disturbing. People are no longer sure of how to handle a serious situation, lest they say the wrong thing. They have let common sense and trusting their gut be replaced by wokeness. We have become truly fearful of what people will think of us when we are called on to tell the truth. It is deeper, more worrisome than wondering how we will look or sound. It means we question our natural instincts to do the right thing because we have been told that speaking about a fact is itself wrong.