Racism, Grace, and a Shrinking World

The world is shrinking. No, I’m not talking about physically shrinking (although if the universe is expanding at the rate science believes, statistically our world IS shrinking in proportion to the universe).  I mean that technology has effectively closed the communication distance between people.

For instance, if in the distant yesteryear, you said something that could have been construed as inappropriate , the only people who heard your gaff were the people in the room. Today, people say things on Twitter and can offend millions within seconds.

This past week, PR exec Justine Sacco was sacked following this tweet:

Justine SaccoObviously offensive. What could have possessed her to write such a thing? Especially given the fact that she works in public relations? My wife and I still puzzle over it.

And then, Steve Martin came across as a jerk in this tweet:

steve_martin_tweetPeople viewed his answer to the question (Is this how you spell lasonia?) as making fun of names in the African-American community.

In both cases, the tweets were deleted shortly after they were written and their writers apologized. Steve Martin, in addition to his apology, has explained the context of his joke and I’m sure that his image will sustain no permanent tarnish. But Justine Sacco doesn’t have a Hollywood history of comedic gold on which to fall back. She’ll probably pay for her mistake forever.

After owning up for his mistake, Martin said this:

“Comedy is treacherous. I used to try out jokes in clubs and the audience’s feedback would tell me when I had crossed a line, or how to shape a joke so it is clear,” he said. “Today, the process is faster. It’s your brain, a button, then millions of reactions. But it’s my job to know.”

In this shrinking world, perhaps our grace should grow with the size of the audience. In the past, an offensive mistake would require an apology to only the room that heard it. Since the room today includes everyone everywhere, I propose that our forgiveness grow in size, if not in proportion (still covering everyone). Because one of these days, we are going to say something unintentionally offensive, and we are going to need that grace and forgiveness for ourselves.

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