Watching the news cycle has me feeling perpetually ill. It’s not just the headlines, though those are unbearably nauseating on their own. And it’s not the spate of typical reactions – overtly racist and sexist and classist drivel that’s easy to point to as being the bile of bigots. That I’ve come to expect. No, the worst part of it all has been the victimization of the tragically privileged.
Case in point? Mary Ann Twitty, the now disgraced former clerk from Ferguson.
In case you missed it, Twitty is the woman who was fired after the DOJ report revealed she had sent some incredibly racist emails. Make no mistake – these emails were patently offensive. There was a picture of Reagan feeding a chimp a bottle that was described as a rare photo of the former president babysitting Obama. There was one that framed the abortion of a black woman’s child as a boon to Crimestoppers. There were more uncovered by the DOJ, but they only published a handful. There was no doubt that this woman should lose her job.
I’m not going to say that losing your job of nearly 20 years isn’t a terrible experience. It must be even worse knowing you deserved it. But what came out of Twitty’s mouth next… I just… ugh.
Twitty sat down with KMOV in St. Louis to discuss the scandal. When asked if she thought the jokes were funny, she replied:
Funny as in humor wise? Yes. Not because it was racist or biased, just funny because it was just funny jokewise. I feel bad because that’s not, I don’t want people to look at me and say ‘she sent those racist jokes out because she’s racist or biased.’ I am not.
That comment might be funny if not for context. See, the thing is, if you think that the content forwarded was funny, you clearly don’t see the people you were discussing as people worthy of the same respect and dignity you demand for yourself. You see them as less based on characteristics that have nothing to do with worth. That’s racism. You’re a racist. There’s no getting around that. Hiding behind the facade of comedy is the modern Emperor’s New Clothes. You think you’re hilarious; the rest of us think you’re an asshole.
But Twitty didn’t stop there. See, not only is she clearly not a racist, she’s adamant that she is also the real victim here. She was just doing what everyone else was doing. My six year old daughter knows better than to do that. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you? Didn’t your mother ever throw that one at you as a kid? How old is this woman? Has she not yet learned to take responsibility for her actions?
Apparently not. In fact, Twitty is so invested in her status as a victim that she went on to say:
It took me a while to get over the feeling of being raped and being thrown under the bus. I’m human, I meant nothing bad by it.
Human. Right. Let’s talk about how inhumane that comment was.
Twitty was not raped. Rape is the violation of your body by another human being. There is no consent involved. It’s not a result of something you did; it stems from another’s desire for power and disregard for your agency.
The offense here is high enough that I feel the need to address the offender directly.
Your body was not violated, Ms. Twitty. The pain you’ve endured was entirely of your own creation. You behaved in a manner that showed absolutely no respect for the agency of those who look and live differently from you. You were cruel as a means of building yourself up. The reward for your cruelty? A momentary grin. The consequence was losing your job. Your inability to engage in critical thinking or perform impact calculus (or, ya know, exhibit some basic humanity) brought this on, and is no one’s problem but your own. You consented to the potential consequences when you made your choices. This was nothing like being raped, ma’am. If anything, when extending the metaphor – and rape metaphors suck, so I don’t encourage you to do so – you’re on the opposite side of the coin, claiming to be a victim after committing a crime.
How dare you compare facing the music after proudly broadcasting your racist, classist, bigoted sense of humor to the utter trauma endured by survivors of sexual violence? How can you possibly follow up such a black-hearted comment with a claim of being “human”? Nothing you just said was humane.
I know there are those of you who might feel sympathy in regards to Twitty’s comments about intent. That doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that: intent is irrelevant here. Just because one doesn’t intend to hurt someone doesn’t excuse their behavior. A drunk may not intend to kill someone while driving under the influence. A person throwing a punch in a rage may not intend for their target to sustain significant injuries. Hell, a rapist may not intend to cause their victim PTSD. None of these arguments are foreign to me. None of them are valid excuses. Not under the law, and not as human beings.
Those are extreme examples, but the point remains the same. Even if we take the rhetoric down a million notches, it doesn’t change. Consider it on an interpersonal level. If you say or do something that causes a close friend pain, and they tell you as much, would you ever respond by saying they’re raping you because you didn’t intend to hurt them? Of course not. Intent. Does. Not. Matter. It doesn’t matter in the extreme, and it doesn’t matter among close friends, and it certainly doesn’t matter when you think you’re not hurting anyone but you are.
You know what does matter? Owning up to your mistakes and facing the consequences.
Twitty did no such thing. After showing a total lack of compassion for those different than her, she didn’t take responsibility for her behavior. After being called out for her total lack of compassion for those different than her, she claimed she was a victim. Worse still, she did so through further callous commentary.
Sympathy is the least appropriate emotion here. Her behavior and reaction to being punished are more akin to a toddler throwing a fit after being put in time out than an adult taking criticism and adjusting her behavior accordingly. In fairness, she’s far from alone. The company ain’t great though: Gamergate folks claiming their hobbies are being ruined by women calling for an end to sexist behavior, White folks claiming reverse racism in the context of privilege conversations, men who think misandry is a real and widespread problem, “Christians” who feel they’re being persecuted because two people of the same sex who are not them are able to get married and see each other in the hospital, judges who think little girls are responsible when raped by their teachers, those organizing defense crowdfunding for the officer who killed Walter Scott in cold blood. I could go on.
Twitty is part of a larger trend among those in a position of privilege who whine when they’re called out for their poor behavior, claiming they are the true victims. They don’t care about history or context. They’re more worried about their own hurt feelings than their role in a problem that’s way bigger than their joke. They don’t understand that their comment contributes to a tidal wave of pain hitting others on a daily basis. They don’t see making people feel uncomfortable or unsafe as a big deal, and certainly not worthy of consequence… probably because they’ve never been made to feel that way.
And for as much agony as Twitty is experiencing in the short-term (while remembering that she brought it on herself), it will pass. Unlike Twitty, the people of color she jokes about face stigma, discrimination, outright hatred, and lethal threats on a daily basis – and not because of something they did, but because of who they are. Unlike Twitty, that’s not something that will go away or fade from public memory.
There is no comparison here. You are not persecuted because someone calls you out. You are being presented with an opportunity for growth, and squandering that by drawing completely inappropriate parallels with people who experience actual discrimination is beyond the pale. And more and more, it’s becoming acceptable to do exactly that.
No headline is more nauseating than this reality.