[TRIGGER WARNING: homophobia, racism, ableism, classism, and offensive statements and slurs related thereto; descriptions of sexual acts, potentially NSFW.]
The owner of Gary’s Chicaros restaurant near Oklahoma City has been all up in the news recently. Gary James is enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame after a disabled customer posted a complaint claiming he was banned from the restaurant by Mr. James simply because he is disabled and uses a wheelchair. Mr. James denies the allegation. If true, such despicable and illegal discrimination would be newsworthy in itself, but it’s the owner’s defiant defense of his policies that has really put Mr. James in the spotlight. Some choice excerpts:
“I’ve been in business 44 years, I think I can spot a freak or a faggot.”
“I don’t deal with these people walking down the street with no jobs on welfare.”
“If you work, you own a business, pay your taxes; you’re more than welcome here. If you’re on welfare, stay at home and spend my money there.”
“If I reached over there and slapped the shit out of you, you should be offended. But to call someone a ‘chink’ or someone call me a bigot, that doesn’t bother me.”
“I really don’t want gays around. Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.”
The official t-shirt of Gary’s Chicaros reads “Where the Great Whites Gather.” It also has the word “nigger” on it, says “faggots” are not welcome, and promotes violence against Democrats, Muslims and minorities. Mr. James says he is proud to wear it. I can only imagine his delightful insights on the subject of women. I am sure his feminist credentials are impeccable.
But the aspect of this story I’d like to highlight is this: in 44 years no one ever challenged Gary James’s business practices.
IN 44 YEARS NO ONE HAS EVER CHALLENGED HIS BUSINESS PRACTICES.
The now-banned disabled customer, Matt Gard—a white man—says he has witnessed James turning people away for years. He just never said or did anything about it until it affected him personally. He now says, “The people who still go back and patronize his business are condoning his behavior in how he treats others.” Indeed. Just as Mr. Gard did for years. Still, better late than never, I suppose. Well, assuming Mr. Gard’s change of views reflects genuine support for non-discrimination policies, and not just with respect to himself and people like him, but everyone. Either way, this story puts into spectacular relief the cavernous empathy deficit that conservatives blithely exhibit, when they are not openly and proudly reveling in it à la Mr. James.
Enid, Oklahoma, where Gary’s Chicaros is located, is a town of about 50,000 people (2010 census). The racial makeup is 81.6% White, 10.3% Hispanic, 3.6% African American, 2.3% Native American, and the rest from other or mixed racial identities. 61.9% claim affiliation with a religious congregation, overwhelmingly Christian: by 1987, there were 90 churches of 27 different Christian denominations in Enid. There are no synagogues or mosques. Enid was ranked the 28th best place in the USA to raise a family in a 1998 Reader’s Digest poll.
There are almost certainly many kind and decent people in Enid who abhor Mr. James’s views, regardless of whether they personally identify with the demographics he explicitly targets. But the community’s decades-long silence is experienced by Mr. James as agreement and support. He has never before paid any price whatsoever for his bigotry or his policies. This is why, as PZ Myers put it, “There’s no such thing as political neutrality. Silence is an argument in favor of the status quo.”
Mr. James is of course free to spout pretty much whatever ignorant and vile shit he wants, a right that we here at the Palace hold absolutely sacrosanct and support 100%. The question, then, becomes what to do about it. We are pleased to report that the Internet has answered this question: mockery.
The owner of an Oklahoma restaurant who declared last week that he won’t serve “freaks,” “f*ggots,” the disabled, or people on welfare now finds himself the victim of an online campaign to brand his establishment the “Best Gay Club” in Oklahoma City.
Gary James of Gary’s Chicaros restaurant told KFOR last week that “I really don’t want gays around. Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.”
The “gays” have responded on Yelp and Facebook by declaring James’s establishment the “[b]est place for hot man sex!”
It’s important to point out that there are splash damage problems with the Yelp and Facebook campaigns to brand Gary’s Chicaros the best gay club in Oklahoma City: some of the comments employ gay stereotypes, center on the perceived ick factor surrounding anal sex, or imply that those who enjoy anal penetration or performing oral sex on men are by definition something other than “masculine.” Those particular messages are as harmful and dehumanizing as Gary James’s outright bigotry, and utterly unnecessary.
But the mockery impulse itself is exactly the right idea. Yelpers claiming his restaurant is “the best gay and/or BDSM club in or around Oklahoma” sends a message to Gary James—who will likely never change his own views—that while he is perfectly free to say terrible shit, he is no longer free to say terrible shit without unpleasant consequences. It sends a message to the good people of Enid that they can and perhaps should extract a price for injustice and bigotry in their midst. It sends a message to everyone that despite this community’s 44-year silence, there are many, many people who vehemently disagree with Gary James and have nothing but the deepest contempt for his views. It also sends a message to the LGBT communities in Enid that they have support in the wider world—which message is diluted by the aforementioned splash damage. Please, people: practice Safe Mocking™.
As I noted on a friend’s Facebook thread the other day:
For lurkers and bystanders actually interested in the truth, a non-response lends weight to the asshole side of the argument, whereas a sharp rebuke tilts the scales back. That’s why I recommend [mockery] *only* in public forums. E.g., in a group of friends and acquaintances recently, someone smugly announced “I’m a Republican.” I shot back “How embarrassing.” People laughed, and that d00d kept his vile conservative opinions to himself. That is a good result.
I liken it to racism: there still are and always will be racists among us, but they no longer feel as safe mouthing off publicly because they will often pay an uncomfortable price. It’s potentially happening with homophobia. It can work with right-wing conservatives, rape apologists, narcissists and sadistic trolls, too. They really do not like it when someone points and laughs at them. It’s an Achilles heel.
There’s a reason right-wing dictators have historically jailed cartoonists and taken over the media: mockery is a powerful tool for changing a culture. The instant oppressed people feel safe enough to mock their oppressors, the powerful become less so. I want to use my relative privilege to help create that safety.
More pointing and laughing, please. Watch the splash damage.