Monday, August 23, 2010

My Encounter with Ignorance

Outside of the downtown Starbucks, enjoying a beautiful sunny day, only spoiled by the sight of a propaganda table full of anti-Obama posters of the most vile kind.

I walked up to the table, where two well-meaning, if poorly informed, young guys (I'm sure you know the folks I mean, they've been tabling on street corners for at least 30 years now) were asking passersby to sign a petition to "impeach the President" - yep, the same petition they've been asking people to sign since at least, oh, 1992 or so.

I walked up with the sole intention of letting them know that I was offended by the poster they were using, which depicted the President with a Hitler mustache. I couldn't even begin to tell them how ignorant and offensive it was. And in fact I didn't actually get much of a chance, because the moment I began to talk to them - well, at them, they weren't listening - a young woman approached the table, eager to sign up to "get rid of Obama". I tried to inform her a little about who the guy was whose name was at the top of the petition. I told her that he was in prison, that he really didn't have anything to offer, and that the petition would not have the effect she was hoping for.

She said, and I'll try to quote exactly:

"So what if he's in prison! That doesn't make you bad. Obama is bad."


"Because he's a terrorist!"

"No he isn't."

"He's a terrorist, and he's not even American. At least this guy's American."

(I'll leave out the imaginary conversation I had with her later, in which I asked her how she could tell this guy on the petition, with his obviously French name, was "American" - my guess is that she would not have even realized that she was assuming, based solely on his race, that he must be.)

I informed her that the President was born in Hawaii, and that he if of course an American, because you can't run for president if you're not a citizen. That's in the Constitution, and he's a Harvard-educated constitutional scholar, so he probably knows that. It didn't penetrate. She accused me of being a "racist against prisoners" (interesting in itself, as was her reaction when I asked her if she knew being in prison didn't make one a separate race. Total blankness).

She continued to write her signature on the "petition" proffered, and asked the guy behind the table, with a hint of desperation in her voice, "Will this get rid of Obama?" The guy behind the table said with great assurance, "Yes!" And she was satisfied. She was so happy to be able to "do something" to "get rid of Obama", who she obviously believed was a dire threat to the nation. (I think I actually recall her cautioning me, with great fear in her voice, that he was "taking away my rights" - although I'm not sure exactly what she meant, and didn't have an opportunity to ask.)

It's fun to laugh at Leno's "man on the street" interviews, when he asks average Americans about history or geography, and they reveal that they aren't exactly sure whether World War II took place in the 18th Century or the 19th, or they don't know which country Europe is in. But ignorance sure isn't funny when you're confronted with it face to face. I had found myself talking directly into the fantasyland created by our friends at Faux News, in the interests of boosting their Republican/corporate agenda. (Can you say "unintended side effects?" I hope you can, Mr. Murdoch, because it's liable to bite you back one of these days.)

I was done with the guys; I hadn't expected to make a dent in their glassy-eyed certainty, although I ruffled their feathers enough to get them to tell me to "go away". The woman and I left the table together, both walking in the same direction with our Starbucks in hand. She avoided my gaze as I continued talking to her, basically telling her that we didn't have to be mad at each other just because we disagreed. She relaxed a little and said she knew that, but she "had to pick up her kids at daycare" (visions of little innocent babes mouthing, "Obama is a tewwowist!" burbled up in my mind). I wished her a good day and silently hoped that some day, some time, when she's gotten enough propaganda in the mail from the guys behind the table to have learned to question everything, including the crap being sent to her by the guys behind the table, she might realize that she was wrong about the President.

I just hope that by then we aren't seeing the guys at the tables with posters of President Palin with a Hitler mustache.


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