America Online: Confessions From “One Of The Good Ones”


When I was a junior in high school, there was a divisive discussion about Gay Pride parades on the front page of Reddit which I decided to take part in.  Having seen this Reddit post, and having read the comments section, the following occurred:

1. I posted my opinion, identifying myself as a gay male.

2. I received dozens of replies telling me how smart I was, hundreds of upvotes, and my comment was cross-posted to other parts of Reddit (for example, the “Best Of” subreddit).

3. My inbox was filled with messages telling me that I was sharing a naive and damaging perspective.

4. I became overwhelmed and essentially removed my writing from the thread.

I didn’t know it at the time, but — for that brief moment — I had essentially become “one of the good ones.”

When this virtual circus occurred, I was a confused 16-year-old with a knack for arguing my views.  I was experiencing a critical period of my childhood within which I was starting to see some people who were very close to me as hurtful.  I was trying to reverse-engineer an explanation for the clash between what I was seeing and what I wanted to see.   As such, I jumped on this idea of sexualized behavior at ‘Pride’ events making hapless people irreparably prejudiced towards the LGBT community, because it would mean the negative ways I was being treated were the fault of a third party.

My argument contained the following three points:

1. Yes, it isn’t fair for people to view all LGBT community members in a negative light, in response to a few people behaving badly (note: this was in specific reference to people being naked in public spaces).

2. However, when those incidents occur, it may be all that a straight cisgender person is exposed to in regards to the LGBT community.

3. Given this reality, it’s no wonder that people develop these prejudices, and the people behaving badly are consequently ruining it for everyone else in their marginalized group.

As an adult, roughly six years out from having written that comment, I still see variations of my argument everywhere online.  Most recently, on Reddit, I saw it in a relatively popular comment on the story of four African Americans who abducted and tortured a white special needs person in Chicago.  Once again, the same framework was there:

1. Yes, it isn’t fair for people to view all LGBT African American community members in a negative light, in response to a few people behaving badly (note: this was in specific reference to people being naked in public spaces brutally victimizing an innocent young man due to his skin tone).

2. However, when those incidents occur, it may be all that a straight cisgender  white person is exposed to in regards to the LGBT African American community.

3. Given this reality, it’s no wonder that people develop these prejudices, and the people behaving badly are consequently ruining it for everyone else in their marginalized group.

Just how like my comment was written ‘as a gay man,’ this comment was written ‘as a black man.’  Just like how my comment was lauded by straight people, this comment was lauded by white people.  I’ve seen similar examples in discussions of Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants, women… almost anything you can think of.  If you are in the minority, and a member of that minority does something bad, writing a comment with those three aforementioned components is almost guaranteed to rake in those coveted internet points.

I believe sincerely that this logic contains a subtle yet damning flaw: it ignores the free will of the person who is prejudiced.  It is completely ridiculous to assume that every gay person, every black person, or any person of any group is defined by the behavior of a few individuals.  To me, to become “one of the good ones” is to ignore that reality, in favor of not viewing those who are prejudiced in a negative light.  

My inference is that many people on Reddit specifically – young, white, straight, and liberal – have a similar dilemma with their own family members.  Their mother is racist, or their father is homophobic, or whatever else it might be; by accepting that certain individuals are ‘causing prejudice,’ it abdicates their own loved ones from being responsible for that prejudice.  If they are racist, sexist, or homophobic, they’re not just creating victims; they’re a victim too! This is very convenient, because it circumvents any discomfort or challenge to an existing world view.  

Nobody wants to feel guilty, nobody wants to feel like they have an unfair advantage, nobody wants to look at those close to them in a critical light.  However, I think that this view of prejudiced people is essentially self-fulfilling.  The prejudiced people who can be changed never will be if everyone decides they can’t change, because nobody will try to change them.  If Daryl Davis could flip 200 Ku Klux Klan members into his personal friends, there’s probably at least a coin-flip chance that you could flip grandma away from thinking every black person is going to mug her, or flip Uncle Jerry away from thinking I shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids.  

Here, let me help you with the following response template:

“But that’s just a few people!  There are thousands of (other group) people!  Plus, aren’t there examples of that in (our group) too?  That seems kinda unfair to say!”  

It’s not exactly Calculus.

Yeah, by challenging the prejudice of your family or friends, you are potentially opting into discomfort.  However, for Americans who are a member of a minority group, the pain and discomfort prejudice causes is not something we get to opt out of.  Please consider this before listening to “one of the good ones,” because they’re probably “good” for you at the expense of themselves.

Covering your eyes from the truth does not make it go away.

Update: some interesting discussion here if you would like to read my perspective in more depth, as well as some detailed challenges to it.