Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What Would You Do If You Witnessed Bigotry?

Although the video is nearly a year old, the following has been circulating among my friends and acquaintances.

To summarize, it's a clip of the TV show What Would You? in which a group of actors enact a scenario in which a waitress is loudly rude to gay parents, who are eating with their children, in a restaurant in Texas. The other patrons of the restaurant are unaware that they are being filmed, and the question was whether or not anyone would take sides or get involved.

You can watch the entire 7-minute clip here, but for those who can't access the video, the waitress starts out by approaching the family's table, expressing a bit of confusion (and nosiness) about their family status, and then saying:
"I mean it's bad enough you're lesbians but you're also parents and they don't have a father. I think that's kind of bad...I think this is terrible. I think they need a Dad!"
The clip shows the actors repeatedly engaging in this set-up in front of different customers and, several times, the waitress acts a bit more aggressively, even going as far as refusing to serve the family.

The "surprise," and I've used quotes there because the surprise is the producer's framing not my own, is that many of the other customers in this Texas town got involved and stood up for the gay family. Apparently, this set-up was also done in New York, where customers were much less likely to get involved.  I'm not sure what, if anything, that "proves," but I did find it touching that, rather than being a bystander to rude behavior and bigotry, some people took a stand.

For instance, when the waitress tried to recruit other people into joining her bigotry, one woman told her, "[Gay families in public] don't bother me.... Actually, your behavior bothered me." Another man left the restaurant, came back, and delivered a touching note to the family that began, "Hello friends, I know it doesn't mean much, but I love you all...."

Only one person was shown supporting the waitress. When she asked the family headed by two gay men to leave, one man gave the waitress a thumbs up, a high five, and barked "good girl!" to the waitress.  When the man found out that he had been filmed, he refused to own his bigotry, instead claiming that he had high-fived the waitress because of "the food" and saying that he didn't want to be on the TV show (his face is blocked out in the clip).

So, it's an interesting video.

For one, the argument that kids raised by two women "need a father" (or that children raised by two men "need a mother") is often put forth as a "civil" reason to oppose same-sex marriage and/or same-sex couples raising children. Seeing that argument actually uttered to a lesbian couple, in front of the children they are raising together, kind of hits home to me just how uncivil that argument is.

And, make no mistake, my impression isn't a matter of ignoring "hard truths that must nonetheless be said." Nor is it a matter of "PC gone too far."

Like this waitress, people who argue that this family's children "need a father" know nothing about this family other than that it's a family headed by two people of the same sex. From these facts, they seem to presume to know a host of other facts, primarily that this family is inferior to all or most male-female-headed families. The implication is that very bad outcomes will result from this lack of "proper" gender representation among the parents, because men and women each bring unique (sometimes "complementary" is used) traits to the parenting table that no two women or no two men can ever possibly bring.

Yet, the claim that "all kids need a mom and dad" is an argument at best, and a vague bumper sticker slogan at worst. What it's not is a proven statement of fact. 

Nonetheless, the uncivil nature of vocally judging a same-sex-headed family in a restaurant, based solely on the fact that the parents were not of different sexes, seemed apparent to at least some of the bystanders in this video. And that, at least, makes me hopeful and happy.

Secondly, I'm curious, would you have gotten involved if you were a customer?  I think it can be difficult to say for sure how I would have responded as a bystander, but I would fathom that I would tell the waitress that I thought she was being rude, tell her manager why they were about to lose my business, ask the family if they were okay, and then leave the restaurant.

I'm particularly curious to hear how opponents of same-sex marriage and/or same-sex child-rearing would have reacted if they witnessed this scenario.

[Cross-posted: Family Scholars Blog]

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