The Rumour- A Lesson in Blocking Out What People Think of You

Earlier this year, after completing my Master’s Degree, I reconnected with an old friend from high school. Socially, high school was a terrible time for me. I was the (more) socially awkward, lanky kid who wasn’t good at any sports and who had nerdy interests: not exactly a magnet for friends or girls. This friend I met up with was one of the few who hung out with me and accepted me for who I was, and I’d been meaning to see him again for a while. I had a great time catching up, but actually went back home with a bad taste in my mouth.

My friend let me know that some other high school acquaintances were spreading a very damaging rumour about me. He told me exactly who he heard it from, and who that person heard it from. There was another University of Ottawa alumni at the end of the chain, let’s call him Neill, one of the few ones from high school who graduated in the same year. It was easy for me to figure out who Neill heard it from, since we had few common acquaintances at OttawaU.

I tried to get in touch with the person who started the rumour, let’s call him Dylan. I messaged him on Facebook and when I didn’t get a response a day later, I called a friend at OttawaU. Dylan often hung out with some of our friends, and I was able to get his number. I sent him texts, and waited days for a response. Finally I called multiple times. I managed to get a hold of Dylan once, but he said he “had nothing to say to me” and then hung up.

To say that this situation angered me would be an understatement. It weighed on my mind more heavily than anything else. It was all I could think about at work and at home. I actually ran into Neill at my local gym and approached him politely, advising him I heard he was spreading a rumour about me. He wasn’t man enough to own up to it.

I realized that what bothered me so much about the situation wasn’t just what Dylan said. I had wronged him in the past and I figured the rumour was his way of getting revenge. It was petty, but it made sense. When it came to Neill and the other person spreading the rumour (let’s call him Mark), I was lulled into thinking there was some level of respect between us. We weren’t friends in high school and I know that during high school they thought of me as a loser. There was no bullying, but I knew they never wanted to hang out with me.

At one point, I though the social stratification of high school ended with those four years. My first year at OttawaU taught me that wasn’t the case. I was still a socially awkward, lanky guy with nerdy interests. I still repelled plenty of girls, although I had an easier time making friends. University was an improvement but it wasn’t the utopic, nerd-friendly, clean slate that it’s made out to be. Knowing this, I never thought Neill and I would be best friends at OttawU. I knew he would still be the popular guy with money and all the other things girls valued. We saw each other around a few times, exchanged a few words and moved on. I thought that there was some semblance of respect there.

Dylan started the rumour during first year, so it was clear that Neill was already spreading it by the time we graduated. Behind all those smiles and kind words was someone who refused to see me as anything but a loser. He heard the rumour and immediately believed it. My good friend didn’t do that. He told me about it. Gave me a chance to clear things up. He did that because he either didn’t believe the rumour, or didn’t want to. This realization is what made me realize that the rumour didn’t matter. People who believed it, spread it, and treated me differently because of it obviously never thought much of me. I wasn’t losing any friends. I wasn’t losing any respect. I never had any from these people in the first place, and that’s fine.

It’s always easier said than done to ignore what people say or think about you. We hear that mantra from kindergarten on, but it can take decades of self-improvement before we finally start applying it effectively. I know writing about this may seem to negate that message, but I hope that this post can help anyone who has struggled with people’s perception of them. I never thought that I would be able to think about this situation without getting angered. Now I write about it just to share a lesson with others, and to reflect on my own progress with developing more mental toughness and maturity. There was a long time when I thought I would want to kill Dylan the next time I saw him. Instead, we’ve now buried the hatchet. As for Mark and Neill, they’re little men and what they do doesn’t matter.

Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

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I have recently made the commitment to post to my writing instagram account, “wmoviegrapevine” at least twice a day. I post to “moviegrapevine” 3-4 times a day, but posting to that account is generally easier. It only requires finding suitable images and offering some commentary. For wmoviegrapevine I also need to come up with original writing or find excerpts from my previous works, and then find a suitable image. For a while I was only doing one post, but I noticed a relatively quick increase in followers when I started posting more. The momentum took me from 73 to 84, where it has now stalled again. Either way, 2 posts are better than one and I think my laziness stopped me from committing to 2 earlier. It can be hard to post when juggling several other responsibilities, but I prefer trying to make time, instead of excuses.

Finding a topic to write on is usually the hardest part. I sat on the bus for a few minutes thinking of what I wanted to discuss and I remembered one of the arguments about racism that I detest the most. I have read many comments online saying that the discussion of race and racism is unnecessary, since we are all one race, the human race. After all, race is socially constructed, so it has no real impact on our lives and doesn’t matter. Firstly, the sentiment that we are all one race is lovely, but I hate the fact that it is often used to downplay the impact of racism in cases of police brutality, hate crimes, employment discrimination and so on. It is a convenient platitude offered to silence people who truly want to engage with an issue. If you just blurt out “we are all one race” you can bask in the glory of your own enlightenment while also ignoring facts that demonstrate that many institutions and individuals don’t act on that principle.

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As a starting point, I’d like to ask these enlightened ones to read this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan sent out resumes in response to over 1300 employment ads, ranging from clerical work to customer service roles. The resumes were crafted to display identical levels of skill and qualifications. Some resumes had names that people may think of as “white names” or more race-neutral ones, such as Jacob and David. Others had names that people tend to associate with people of colour, such as “Jamal”. Despite equal levels of qualifications the resumes with white names received more callbacks for interviews. Each resume with a white name needed 10 resumes to get a call back, resumes with black names needed to send 15 to get a call back. If the resumes display the same level of skills and qualification, why is there a noted difference in callbacks? If people are colour-blind then the names shouldn’t have any impact. One of the most common beliefs among “colour-blind” preachers is that skill and a desire to work hard are all you need to be successful. Then why are “black names” (Jamal and many other names people think are black names are actually Arabic in origin) holding some applicants back? Keep in mind, these names are not all “ghetto” ones. What justification do you colour-blind people have for the results of this study?

The argument that a social construct doesn’t matter reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. The Pulitzer-nominated book mainly examines the impact that the internet has on our brains but Carr also includes an interesting segway that examines how societal constructs can change the way humans think. His example was the use of time and I think it provides a perfect parallel to the oft-cited “race is a social construct” argument. Although categories such as “white” and “black” have not always existed, there have always been people with different skin colours. Likewise, the units of time that we now call “hours” and “minutes” have always existed. The only difference is that we did not always have names for them and we did not always arrange our schedules by them. We used to rely on the sun and the moon to measure our days, but overtime we adopted more precise times for arranging meetings, transit schedules and so on.

Now imagine that you are late for work for a work meeting for the fourth time in a row. You walk into the meeting room and everyone is already seated, with your boss at the head of the table glaring at you. Why don’t you tell him that the start time of 10:00AM is socially constructed, so showing up at 10:10AM doesn’t matter. The sun is still up, so it is still the morning. You are still on time and you refuse to let foolish social constructs dictate the way you see the world, or the way you behave. Do you think that argument will go over well?

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Getting rid of racial categories or pretending they don’t exist is not enough to end or even diminish racism. It is a fact that many people have racial preferences for their romantic or sexual partners. If we get rid of the category of “black”, people will just go from saying “I don’t like black guys” to saying “I don’t like dark-skinned guys” or “I don’t like guys with curly hair” etc. Cops won’t be more suspicious of “black people”, they’ll be more suspicious of people “of African descent”. It is true that race can at times be fluid, since some black people might be lighter-skinned than people of other races. However, people need to realize racism and discrimination as a whole aren’t just about melanin.

Everyone “sees colour”. The real test of whether or not you are racist is what you do with that visual information. There is nothing wrong with noticing that someone is lighter-skinned or darker-skinned, or that they are a different race. The issue is if you think less of them for it e.g. this person is black, therefore they are stupid. This person is black, therefore I will never date him. This person is black, so there is a greater chance he will attack me. That is racism.

Saying “I don’t see colour” just means that you don’t have the moral fortitude to actually make these distinctions. It is too hard for you to see colour and not be racist, so it is simpler just to pretend like you can’t see colour at all. Yet you will probably be the first person to argue that we don’t need affirmative action and that blacks would be better off if they weren’t so lazy. The next time you say “I don’t see colour” or hear someone else saying it, don’t get sucked into this black hole of denial. Ask them if they could see colour and still avoid being racist, which is what plenty of people manage to do. Ask them why they can’t wrap their head around that task. Better yet, ask them what they are physically attracted to, what they think that about black people disproportionately killed by police, or ask them what they think about affirmative action. You might discover that they do see colour after all.