Monday, December 4, 2017

My Racist Window Unit

My early brush with Outrage Culture:

In 1994, I bought an air conditioner from an Indian family in my building, and for the next several years, whenever I turned on the unit, my whole apartment would smell overwhelmingly like curry (fine by me, naturally). I thought this was a great story, so I mentioned it a couple of times to friends. Their faces tightened. I was being "racist." The fact that it was true was utterly irrelevant.

Strangely giving a crap, I learned to stop telling that particular story. But one day, a different friend visited me on a warm afternoon, and we turned on the air conditioner. Unprompted, my friend inquired about the curry smell. I explained its origins, and her face tightened. Even now, I was being a racist...when she'd been the one to make the observation!

Or maybe my air conditioner was racist. I'm still not sure who exactly the racist was...

Soon thereafter, I opened Chowhound and learned about the propensity of mobs to lose their minds over whatever yadda yadda happens to offend them this week (it truly got ridiculous; one user demanded that I stop recommending the classic "White Trash Cookbook", asking if I'd be so eager to promote, say, the "Filthy Jew Cookbook" which I believe I replied "From your keyboard to my literary agent's ears!").

The magic catalyst, I discovered, was a critical mass sympathetic to the outraged party. Without this, mouthy offended people seem like deranged lunatics. But if their pique goes viral, it can take over absolutely everything. 
Mobs are scary, though they feel sublimely righteous from within. Nothing feels better than an angry mob to an angry mob. 

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