Fourth of July duds: Coarse insensitivity and hearty applause
There are rights and there are wrongs. This past Fourth of July, I joined some friends at a holiday gathering. The event featured friendly competitions, including a costume contest. By almost all accounts, the gathering was a complete success. Except for the last-minute entry of team “Aryans.” These two people, dressed in Nazi military uniform costumes, sported swastikas on their arms cleverly fashioned to match the party’s theme.
My friends and I were shocked at the casual display of such historically offensive symbols that represent the murder of 11 million and the genocide of a people. Symbols have meanings, and they convey messages.
Regardless of what these two intended, the symbols they paraded were much larger and pointed and conveyed meanings and messages they could neither control nor redirect. They were offensive, hurtful and scary.
Unfortunately, their appearance did not seem to have the same effect on many of the folks in the crowd as it did on me. After I had left the gathering, the others — through crowd applause — awarded the two people the best costume prize.
In the hours and days that followed, the organizers of what was intended to be a family-friendly gathering communicated their sincere apologies for not acting in the moment to address the situation. They asked the AntiDefamation League for assistance in drafting right of refusal language that will help them avoid this type of incident in the future. For this proactive approach and sincere effort, we applaud them. Lessons were learned for many of those involved in this unfortunate turn of events.
What leaves me saddened is the realization that in this bastion of enlightened values we call home, two people acting so offensively were honored rather than being booed off the stage. On July 4, we celebrate our independence and all of the hard-earned freedoms that followed. Thanks to the First Amendment, we have a legal right to express ourselves as we wish, even if many in the community find that expression offensive. But, as a community, we have a responsibility to recognize the difference between what is legal and illegal and what is right and wrong.
Austin should not be OK with this type of insensitive exploitation of a serious event in our recent history. Those two people should have been called down, rather than uplifted and awarded a prize. Are we so desensitized? Is it an issue of ignorance? Have we lost the ability to walk in each other’s shoes?
The two people apologized for offending, and I do not believe they had ill intent. But as a community, let us step up and hold one another accountable when this type of insensitivity rears its head. Just because we have the right to do something wrong does not mean we should exercise it. Austin should be no place for hate.