Aisle Of Wit

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Defending The Right To Be Wrong

Here we go again.  Yet another headline-grabbing revelation of someone’s past racist remarks being caught on a hot mic, a flurry of calls for said person to be excommunicated, and a doubling down of that desire for blood even when that person voluntarily steps down from their appointed position of entitlement but seeks to remain in the job they were elected to.

Nury Martinez is a Los Angeles City Council representative near where I recently lived, and was the first Latina appointed as its president.  I’m therefore a bit familiar with the neighborhoods she represents and the professional reputation she had.   In that area, a majority of billboards and storefronts are in Spanish, and I was well aware I was, at best, a statistical plurarity.  My logical conclusion was that she fairly represented the demography of her district.   I also used to live in a neighborhood which mayoral candidate Karen Bass currently represents in U.S. Congress. I’ve seen them both speak and am familiar with their respective track records and what their constituencies have thought of their jobs.  Up until last week, I’d place Martinez’ connection with those who elected her to be superior to Bass’.

But after the Los Angeles Times reported on the existence of an audio conversation where Martinez disparaged the biracial son of a political opponent, as well as Oaxacans, in what at the time she thought was a private conversation with several of her other Latino colleagues on the Council, she has become the face of yet another hue and cry for cancellation, rising to national attention because of the timing and perceived hypocrisy.  After all, when someone who cites that groundbreaking appointment as her chief claim to fame, the fact that she actually harbors hatred of other minorities is deemed as blasphemous.

I do not endorse or support Martinez’ opinions of either Blacks or Oaxacans, and no doubt she exercised exceptionally poor judgement in voicing those opinions in a conversation about city redistricting, which she believed was being gerrymandered to reduce the diversity and overall impact of her district.  Indeed, the home I was living in at the time was in the area that was slated to be taken out of her jurisdiction.  She was upset, perhaps with justification, at losing not just power, but impact. She clearly felt the ability to simply do a job was being threatened.

As I felt yesterday when I schlepped down to downtown Los Angeles for an orientation with UPS, and I met up with a clearly overworked and frustrated middle manager who ushered me inside an otherwise locked lobby, stared at me through tired eyes and wearing a black medical-grade paper mask, ordered me to sign in and grab one of the many similar ones she had in her hand.  Which surprised me, since as of last month all masking mandates were finally lifted in Los Angeles County, and in the numerous e-mails and texts I received the only specific apparel demand that was made was the wearing of work boots, which my still-chaffed ankles are painfully reminding me of as I type this.

When I expressed that surprise, rather than engage in a conversation, she immediately starting screaming at me to comply “because she said so”, and this lovely and increasingly heated exchange ensued:

— “You wear a damn mask just like me.  Too many peoples (sic) back there.”

— “Really?  What authority do you have to demand this in light of recent relaxations?”

— “UPS says so!  Do you run UPS?!??!”

— “Do you?  Do you run this office?  Who does?  I’d like to speak to this person about this.”

–“You ain’t speakin’ to no one!!  You outta here!!  I’m getting rid of you!!!”

— “Really? On what grounds?  I haven’t been hired yet, so it’s not insubordination.  Do you run UPS?”

–“I AMMMMM UPS!!!!!”

For your information, this is Nando Cesarone, the actual president of UPS.  I assure you, the screaming, masked African-American woman who claimed otherwise was not him.

When her actual supervisor did finally appear, he politely asked me to step away for a cooling off, which I did.  I found a nearby bathroom, and it looked like I had stepped backwards two years.  Social distancing signs limiting capacity, taped-off sinks, and numerous signs urging hand washing abounded.  Somehow, both side-by-side urinals were operative, which if they were really following 2020 protocol would have also been enforced.

While I was there, I googled the current policies on masking for both UPS and the City of Los Angeles.  While both “strongly recommended” masking, neither entity mandates it.  Since I’ve just had my third booster, I’m perhaps a bit more overconfident than many believe I should be, but I knew I was not wrong.  Clearly, confusion abounded.

By the time I returned, the middle manager was much calmer, polite and I, in acknowledgment, had replaced the highly irritating and overly constricting piece of paper with the more breathable, triple layered, charcoal-infused mask I always carry with me out of respect.  She had obviously been spoken to, but was allowed to continue to do her job, having acknowledged she was off base in how she acted.  I didn’t want her to be fired.  I merely wanted respect for my understanding,  I apologized for any misunderstanding, and she grunted “it’s OK” before allowing me into the orientation (highly frustrating, but that’s for another discussion).

Nury Martinez has apologized, and she has vowed to do better.  She’s up for reelection in 2024.  The Times ran a sidebar story this morning on how some of her constituents felt and, as what they considered representative, they found two sixty-something males, one white, one African-American, to call for her resignation.  If what was revealed last week to have been said will still matter to them then, they will then have the right to remove her from her job.  They, along with other residents, are the only ones who should have that right.  It should not be up to public figures running for office this year, or even currently elected officials who are involved in keeping control for their party, to summon the court of public opinion to make that decision.

Down in Alabama, Senator Tommy Tuberville is running for reelection, and this weekend delivered a hate-filled speech where he effectively claimed Democrats weee responsible for championing the rights of criminals, with the dog-whistling perception being that he effectively delivered a racist diatribe, as reported by AL.com:

Speaking at a Trump rally in Nevada, Tuberville showed his true colors as he talked about how Democrats are in favor of reparations because they are “pro-crime.”

“They’re not soft on crime. They’re pro-crime. They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got,” Tuberville said. “They want to control what you have. They want reparation because they think the people who do the crime are owed that,” Tuberville said as the crowd cheered. “Bullshit!”
Tuberville has not backed down from his statements, despite both local and national castigation to do so.  He is courting voters who elected him initially based largely upon his success as a college football coach at Auburn, many of whom, like him, remember an era where George Wallace ran the state.  So it’s pretty clear his opinions are deeply rooted, likely going back to childhood. and he’s even less likely to be transformed into a more inclusive view than is Martinez.  His constituents will soon have the chance to vote him back in or out.  It is NOT up to anyone else, regardless of how much they may disagree with him, to determine his right to do his damn job until then.
When politicians, activists and even regular Joes and Janes demand someone pay with their careers for having views on other people contrarian to their beliefs, what do they think will be accomplished in such an excommunication?  Do they truly believe that somehow, a light will go off and they will miraculously become fully rehabilitated?  Even in a moment of agitation which they be less sensitive then they otherwise would be?
I would ask every single one of you who fall into such a category to quietly, privately, ask yourselves–was there EVER a moment where you may have thought someone you’d otherwise regret thinking about someone who wronged you, and all you could think of in the moment was how they looked or where they were from?  I’m not saying all of you fall into such a category; for you, you have my applause and env.   I’m here to say I fall into the other category, as I’m certain many of us do.  The difference is. so far I’ve never been caught with a recording that people have weaponized against me for potential political gain.
The best way someone like Nury Martinez could do something positive would be to use this humilation as motivation to do better by her constituents, listen to their actual needs versus their opinions, and potentially have the chance to do something right.  To exit office completely to theoretrically stew forever in the intractability of her beliefs may be a noble goal, but it is a highly unlikely outcome.  Like Tuberville, her beliefs have been ingrained far longer than those of her newfound haters.  Rome is not rebuilt in a day.   You should not expect Nury Martinez to change her viewpoints in such a timeframe, and she’s far less likely to do so when she’s removed completely from the limelight.
And as for Tuberville, we’ll know soon enough whether he continues as an elected official.   If he loses, it’s likely his old job as Auburn football coach will be open; they just got humiliated by Georgia by three touchdowns on national television.  Yes, I know he probably won’t get it.  But I defy anybody to tell me the thought hasn’t crossed more than a few of his supporters’ minds, particularly those who root for Alabama.  Because based on his recent track record, he’s not likely to win an Iron Bowl for some time.  And, believe me, that will make more of an impact on an old racist football coach than even not being reelected will, let alone anyone who believes he shouldn’t even have the chance at a job because of his views.
I piously wish people cared more about what they thought, and how to control it, than what politicians do.  I know I learned a bit more about self-control yesterday.  Maybe, just maybe, some of you might give pause to consider that lesson as well.
Until next time…