The Occidental Tourist

A Facebook Debate About
Race, Culture and Values

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Paul R. Gibson

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After a number of years on Facebook, in July of 2015, my sister Sharon found me and friended me on my 57th birthday. Now living a couple states away, I hadn’t heard from her in about fifteen years. Growing up I remember little of Sharon. Almost 14 years older than I, Sharon was out of the house before I can remember her living there. Family lore has it that she was a great lover of argument and confrontation. One story has it that she was praising Chairman Mao and Communist China one day when my father scolded her saying, “I’d be happy to buy a ticket so you can go there and live.” Accurate or not, it sounds like dad. My own memories of Sharon are from later family get-togethers like Thanksgiving and such. All my memories are fond. I mostly remember her quick wit and laughter. It wasn’t until mom and dad died I learned that she was my half sister. Since then she has told me several things about my family that I never knew.

On Facebook she offered up a challenge to me which is met in the pages that follow:

Happy Birthday Paul! I was glad to find you on Facebook and it looks like we might have some interesting debates. I sparred with liberals on the Tribune – as odd man out – until they banned me for being politically incorrect.

Thanks for the birthday wishes. I’ve seldom been much of a debater but I find nothing wrong with being politically correct. And I seem to get more liberal as I get older. Winston Churchill is quoted to have said, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” But there is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!” So perhaps it’s me, Churchill and, later, Goldwater.

Many of our conversations were public insofar as anybody could read and follow our threads because most were linked to her, my own, or someone else’s post. Sharon has never been shy about posting her opinions publicly. And the anonymity of the Internet removes any reservation that some people might otherwise have about voicing their opinions in reply. In answering my sister’s assertions about race and culture, I had to do some studying-up as her intellect can be challenging. I was surprised as well as disappointed to learn that some of her ideas are still prevalent among certain intellectuals. I then brought up these discussions with co-workers only to confirm how prevalent some of these beliefs still are today.
      Keeping track of our threads, however, could sometimes be problematic because our conversations sometimes became disconnected from the original post. So sometimes we would end up messaging each other through Facebook’s “chat” feature. There was usually a day or two gap between comment and reply. Sometimes, however, our conversation would stall. I’m not sure if Sharon became disinterested or distracted. Sometimes I would try to jump-start our conversation with questions of a personal note, or a change of subject. I insert notes herein with italics so as to provide context for certain references that might not otherwise be clear.
       I was a bit hesitant to enter into this conversation for two main reasons. First of all I had a brief e-mail exchange with Sharon’s husband about 20 years earlier in which he berated me for accusing him of, I can’t recall now, sounding racist perhaps? I responded by reminding him that I was simply responding to the words of an article he had forwarded along to me, our siblings, and cousins. I did, however, tell him that if he shared this author’s views then we could certainly address these issues together. I never heard another word from him. The second reason is that, not long before our mother died, our mother relayed a conversation (an argument) she previously had with Sharon and her husband which had left her in tears. She felt crushed. Regardless of these issues, or perhaps because of them, I decided to carry on.
       The chat style of conversation can be a problem with such a small window and little opportunity for desired punctuation and spell checking, so I would copy and paste her email notifications into a word processor document for convenience. I would then write my reply within that same document and copy and paste the results into the chat window. Once in a while another friend of mine might comment (these people shall often remain nameless but I provide them with initials and a font) upon something that leads the thread in another direction and then back again. Sometimes Sharon’s comments were, or seemed to be, in reply to the other party so I include some of these threads within our discussion. Please forgive any grammatical errors. Evidently Sharon wrote live within her browser, but to my eye she is an excellent editor for herself. Although I removed some family details, I didn’t want to edit words that weren’t my own and so I’ve mostly left the correspondence as it came out of our respective keyboards, warts and all.