A Judge’s Ancestry, Prejudice and Failure: Something More that Must be Said

A Judge’s Ancestry, Prejudice and Failure: Something More that Must be Said

My son was seeking advice about the situation at his first real job.  My son’s complaint: repeatedly, his hours had been cut, apparently to benefit a member of the owner’s family, who would pick up the hours my son had lost.

My son’s counselor, in giving advice, kept making reference to “those people.”

That made me uncomfortable.

The owner of the fast food shop where my son was employed was of a particular ethnic/racial background. Which one is irrelevant. My son’s counselor’s use of “those people” sounded like a broad brush.

When I intervened, I initially tried simply to nudge the critique toward the personality of the particular boss and/or some of the problems faced by nonfamily members in some family businesses. But the one giving advice to my son would not have it.

“I’ve worked with these people,” he said. “They’re all like that.”

I made two or three more attempts, more firmly, to get that language changed, to get my son’s counselor to narrow his critique. I then was blunter about my concern, about how comments about “those people” were racist and inappropriate.

Even then, he persisted, rejecting the critique and insisting that “they” really were all like that.

At that point, I insisted that he stop, that I would not tolerate such talk in my house.

He stormed out. And from that day to this, now many years along life’s passageways, it is difficult for us to talk (though we have managed it from time to time). I’ll confess that I’ve made it worse, out of my own arrogance and my frustration, and out of the pain of the loss of the friendship we might have had.

He simply refused to hear himself as most others would have heard him.

There is a difference between actions that are inappropriate and a judgment that an individual characteristically engages in those actions. One can lie and not be a liar. Stress, frustration, exhaustion, fear, anger and a host of other emotions may move us to speak what we know is not truth. Does that make us liars? Yes, in the moment, and certainly it raises questions about our character. But those questions can be answered; our norm may be truthfulness, and we simply may fail at times to live up to our own fundamental character.

Similarly, someone can make a racist comment, use an ethnic slur, refer in a derogatory way to someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or simply one’s biological sex or one’s body type, without having the characteristic of being bigoted. Those errors reflect our imperfections and our limitations, emotionally, physically and mentally. Sometimes we just don’t realize what we’ve said or done. Sometimes we do, and in that weak moment, we just don’t care.

But outside of that moment, and when confronted with what we have done, we should realize, and we should care.

And this is the other thing, picking up on Monday’s thread, that others are saying and needs to be said about the presumptive Republican nominee’s behavior.

The issue raised by Donald Trump’s persistent assertion that a federal judge of Mexican ancestry is biased against him because of his ancestry isn’t whether or not to call Mr. Trump racist or prejudiced.  It isn’t a question of labeling, but of what it tells us about the degree to which he is open to others and to understanding what they see.  When others point out what appears to be a blind spot in our conduct, a tone-deafness, or an apparent prejudice, are we open to the critique? Are we willing to see ourselves as some others see us and consider the truth that lies within their account?

My son’s counselor was not. Neither, apparently, is Mr. Trump.

Saying that one is “friends with . . . people of Mexican and Hispanic descent,” the stereotypically poor response to having been shown that one’s conduct appears to be bigoted, hardly suggests openness to serious self-examination. Continuing to attack the judge because of his “reported associations with certain professional organizations” (suggesting that being a member of a professional organization  based on ethnicity would be grounds for disqualification from hearing a case) heightens the already high level of concern about Mr. Trump’s attitudes and behavior.

This is America. We are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, agnostic, atheist and others. We come from every continent and every country and every people.

If any of us would assert that we will make America “great again,” we must start by recognizing the place of every American in the story . . . not just the ones we see reflected in our mirror.

To do any less is to fail. It is to fail to be great . . . and to fail to be American.