Motherf**king Empathy   Leave a comment

On the evening after newly-sworn-in Representative Rashida Tlaib told her supporters that the new Democratic House’s plan was to “Impeach that motherf**ker,” eliciting finger-wagging from across the political spectrum, my wife and I happened to watch a particular episode of the Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The show follows the misadventures of 1960’s housewife Midge Maisel as she becomes a standup comic, sharing Greenwich Village stages with the likes of Lenny Bruce. In this episode, Midge found herself giving a spontaneous uninvited speech at a friend’s wedding—a speech in which she made lewd jokes about the priest and inadvertently unveiled her friend’s pregnancy.

“I have no filter! I don’t know where the line is anymore!” she later confessed.

And I thought: here in 2019 USA, none of us knows where the line is anymore.

If you know me, you’re likely aware that it’s extremely rare for me to utter a curse word. This is for a number of reasons—among them that I have witnessed so many people embarrassed (or not embarrassed) when they accidentally dropped an F-bomb near children or in church (for example). I don’t want to have a bifurcated vocabulary with different lexicons for different environments and then get it wrong in the places that matter.

But this president (the Motherf**ker In Question) and his administration have strained my filter, and I’ve found my usual vocabulary often feeling inadequate to the task of describing or responding to the cruelty of the MIQ and his supporters. I’ve muttered a few curses under my breath, and at least one on social media.

I know priests, deacons, and religious who curse like sailors; it doesn’t make them any less holy people.

But as for Tlaib’s critics: calls for “civility” from people of power and privilege are almost always attempts to suppress dissent. And of course tone-policing from the MIQ and his supporters rings entirely hollow: where is the line anymore when the President of the United States regularly drops phrases like “grab ’em by the pussy,” “bomb the shit out of them,” and “shithole countries”?

(As the Psalmist says: He loved cursing,
let it come upon him;
    he took no delight in blessing,
    let it depart from him.
)

And how can bad language be considered more obscene than actions like endorsing Neo-Nazi marchers or separating refugee parents from their children with no plans to reunite them?

It’s clear that Tlaib’s use of “Motherf**ker” was criticized less because of what she said and more for who she is: it’s another example of privilege in our nation. A straight white cisgender Christian-identifying man can say whatever he likes and have it shrugged off as “locker room talk” while everyone else is expected to hold a common standard of decorum—especially a Muslim woman, on thin socio-political ice to begin with.

But what strikes me as most elemental about the criticism of Tlaib is the lack of empathy from the Right. For a long time Republicans have exhibited an unwillingness to understand anyone different from them—to the point at which they ridicule the very word “empathy” and assume the worst about those strangers. This refusal to see others’ perspectives has—bafflingly—become a point of pride for them as they chide liberals for “political correctness” and being “snowflakes.” What a strange and sad outlook for people who largely identify as Christian—who are supposed to see the image of God, the face of Christ in everyone they encounter!

They see lazy people rather than people whom capitalism forces to work two or three jobs to feed their families. They see people looking for a “government handout” rather than people failed by the current healthcare system. They see traitors to the flag rather than black people protesting systemic racism. They see sexual degenerates rather than people who want to make a life with the same-sex partner they love. They see predators in masquerade rather than individuals assigned a gender that does not conform to their identity. They see terrorists rather than Muslims. They see invaders rather than refugees. They see threats to their careers and reputations rather than victims of sexual assault.

They cannot fathom that for all the people who are marginalized by the system in the first place—a marginalization that has escalated under the MIQ—perhaps a curse word is the only word such people can bring themselves to utter about this president.

In a more benign time we might wish that Tlaib had used a more polite word. But whatever you think of the MIQ, if you cannot summon enough empathy to understand how a Muslim woman—someone from at least two demographic groups routinely dehumanized by the MIQ’s words and actions—might find “motherf**cker” an appropriate word for him—perhaps the only appropriate word for him—you have hardened your heart. If you cannot see why members of dozens of marginalized groups might take some small satisfaction from summoning their most vulgar vocabulary to refer to the vulgarian who has decided that their rights, their safety, and their very existence should be up for debate, you have hardened your heart.

Find your compassion and see the face of Christ in your human siblings. See the wounds of Christ in their wounds. Work to make our nation recognize their full humanity and dignity.

Posted 7 January 2019 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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