My friend, the bigot
What do you do when someone you have known for years turns out to represent everything you despise? Should you stay or go?
Here's something you probably know already: We live in strange times. I know because I look at headlines that horrify people older than I am, and elicit chuckles among those who are younger. Things that were unacceptable at some point in our collective history are now the new normal, and everything that is ugly about humanity has increasingly been given an invitation, the world over, to rise to the surface and enjoy its moment in the sun.
Here's another thing you probably know already: People we thought were once knew aren't the same. I found this out the hard way when an old friend recently shocked me by posting a vile piece of propaganda on a WhatsApp group I happen to be part of. This was an act of bigotry, an attack on a community created by people paid to generate this sort of stuff, encouraged by social media platforms unwilling to curb the enthusiasm of anyone in search of a megaphone.
At first, I assumed it was some sort of joke. Why would someone I have known all my life, and someone obviously aware of what I believe in, find it appropriate to post a message that went against everything I and others in that WhatsApp group stood for? And so, I asked my friend if he thought he was being funny. It turns out he was serious though, and he spent the next half hour inundating me with more propaganda, convinced that he was right, and I was wrong, doing his best to get me to agree with what he was saying.
My friend doesn't live in India. He hasn't since he finished college, because the first thing he did after graduating was apply for a job on a cruise liner. He spent the next two decades travelling the world, stopping in Bombay for short 10-day holidays every other year. He doesn't vote. He says he pays taxes, presumably because he owns property in the city and has to. He believes that paying taxes entitles him to have an opinion on who should and shouldn't be allowed to live in India. He has strong views on religion and believes people should marry only if they share the same beliefs. He married a foreigner, of course, but refuses to let anyone call him a hypocrite.
I realised, after a few more weeks of having this extended conversation with my friend, that I simply had no idea who he was as a person. I assumed I knew, because we met when we were both children, studying in a secular public school that admitted anyone and everyone. I assumed that shared background had allowed him to grow up to be an open, accepting member of society like I was. I was surprised to find that it had done nothing of the sort. It took me a while to reconcile myself to the fact that my friend was a bigot, and that he probably had been one all his life. He simply had no access to a platform that allowed him to express that bigotry. Until now.
People change, of course, and there is no rule that says this must always be for the better. It is telling though, that more and more of us are changing in ways that make us more prejudiced human beings. We aren't being taught to accept anyone different from ourselves as much as we are being taught to reject the idea of the 'other.' My friend is no longer the exception; he is now the norm.
I thought about what I could do to counter this. I tried explaining why I had problems with what he was posting, and he responded by asking me to stop being sensitive. I shared facts that he dismissed as fake, because Presidents and Prime Ministers the world over now reject journalists who don't fawn over their every move. For every argument I tried making, he had a counter that was deeply flawed yet desperately held on to, a blinkered approach to a narrative not of his own making. I gave up, eventually, and debated whether to quit the WhatsApp group. Some of my friends thought it made sense to, others pointed out that doing so would only allow the free rein of more bigoted dialogue.
The older I get, the harder I find it to condone these senseless displays of hate. I have decided to not be friends with this man anymore. I like to believe the loss is his.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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