The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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Why today matters.

November 4th, 2008 · 8 Comments · Misc.

I’m in Moscow. I’ve had a shit day.

What follows features the sort of language I doubt is “Work Safe”. It’s not “funny profanity” either, so be warned.

My flight was terrible, the weather is appalling, my luggage was lost and hasn’t been located. But those are fleeting things that will pass in a matter of days, at most.

What REALLY made today stand out was what happened a couple of hours ago in the restaurant in our hotel.

Because my luggage was lost, I’m limited to the clothes on my back until the local mall opens tomorrow. As it happens, I’m wearing an Obama t-shirt. I will admit that I was slightly underdressed for the restaurant we were in, but I didn’t exactly have a choice. So I sat down to dinner with my coworkers and enjoyed a decent meal.

As things were wrapping up, I excused myself to run back to my room to see if my phone had recharged sufficiently to let me call home. As I exited the restaurant, a group of men from the table behind me stood up. As I passed them, one shouted “OBAMA!” I assumed this was a positive, cordial gesture, similar to the security guard at Heathrow who’d flagged me through security with a “Hey, Obama!” and a wink earlier in the day (the primary high point of the past 36 hours for me, to be honest). So I turned around with a smile, intending to say something generically positive before getting back underway.

As I turned around, one of the men stepped forward - about a half step from my face. They were well-dressed, well-groomed, middle-aged men - not exactly what I picture “trouble” looking like. He stood for a moment, silently, then put his finger in my face and yelled “NIGGER LOVER.”

This activated two parts of my brain - the “GET READY TO HIT A GUY” part and the liberal, “let’s be tolerant, he might be confused” part. The latter won out, so I tried to explain that - to Americans - that was a very sensitive term and that it might not mean what he intended it to mean.

He reiterated his previous statement, this time adding “shit eating” to it. At this point, the guy to his left stepped up and started ranting about how America is a “kindergarten” and how Obama is “made of liverwurst” - neither of which made any sense to me.

Now, let me be clear - if this were Virginia or Maryland or Alabama or ANYWHERE in the US, I would’ve just clocked the older dude who started it and dealt with the consequences. But I’m in FUCKING MOSCOW. I am NOT going to be able to talk my way out of serious trouble if I deck a Russian businessman and then try to compete with HIS version of the event, presented in his native tongue to the Police.

So I decide to walk away.

At least, that’s PARTIALLY why I walked away.

I look to the second guy and say “well, I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion” and then I turned to leave.

At which point he plants his hand on my chest and calls me a “nigger lover” again. So now I’m cornered by a bunch of Russian racists and one of them has essentially taken a swing at me. Every fiber of my being wants to just attack them. Gulag be damned, this is total bullshit.

But some weird, rational part of my brain manages to force me to squirm out of his grip and head back into the restaurant. Upon seeing that I was part of a group of numerically superior American and British gents, my new “friends” decided to head out.

I sat seething for a few minutes when I noticed a security detail enter the restaurant. I assumed they were there to keep an eye out for the drunk assholes who’d tried to pick a fight with me, but after a minute or two, they re-entered and sat down directly behind me - nodding to one of the guards, who responded in kind.

Security was AFTER ME.

At this point, it seemed prudent to leave. We headed back to Paul’s room, where I basically sat bubbling over with rage for the better part of an hour. I’d walked away from what I KNEW was an honorable, decent fight. I was ABSOLUTELY in the right to knock the shit out of the guy who’d shoved me, but instead I’d “turned the other cheek” and left. And it made me feel weird and disappointed and angry at myself, even though I knew - rationally - that it was the only right thing to do.

The timing made it sting even more - literally HOURS prior to the probable election of our first black president - a move that I had hoped would IMPROVE the stock of “brand America” abroad - I’m facing off against drunk, fucked up racists in a swanky hotel bar in Russia’s most “progressive” metropolis - being called things that would get your teeth kicked in if you uttered them nearly anywhere in the US.

Obama winning isn’t just a message to Americans, it’s a shot across the bows of the remaining strongholds of intolerance and bigotry everywhere.

As it stands, the only shirt I have is my Obama shirt and - for better or for worse - I’ve decided to wear it again. In front of a crowd of 70,000 Russian geeks. It is my hope that what I encountered was an aberration, that most Russians are decent, forward-thinking people.

If it’s not, well, I guess I might get my ass kicked in Moscow. In any event, the whole thing made me think hard about two things:

1) I am PROUD of America today. Even if, by some fluke, Obama loses, the nation has risen up to support him for reasons TOTALLY unrelated to race in numbers that seemed impossible just months ago. We ARE a progressive nation. We ARE part of a bright and positive community of nations. We may not always be the first across the line, but we’re on the right track.

2) It sounds sappy, but as I was standing face to face with a guy calling me a “nigger lover”, all I could think about was every grade-school lecture I’d ever heard about Martin Luther King Jr. Even if it’s totally warranted, WE don’t get violent. Don’t back down, but don’t resort to violence. Never speak out of anger. Be the bigger man. It seems trite whenever you hear it, but it actually matters that you DID hear it - repeatedly - when the time comes to make that sort of choice.

So… yeah. I’m having “one of those days” where everything going on feels ENORMOUS and, I can honestly say, the feeling is warranted. Today REALLY does matter.

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ralf // Nov 4, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    I am (seriously) impressed with your self-restraint. Both the smart move and requiring copious amounts of willpower. Nietzsche said (I’m generously paraphrasing) any asshole can impose his will on others. True will-to-power involves imposing one’s will on oneself. Thus, philosophically speaking, you are der Ubermensch.

    Plus, after such an encounter, I imagine an Obama victory will taste extra sweet.

  • 2 bw // Nov 4, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Sorry to follow a clearly superior story with a weaker one of my own, but here goes.

    I had a similar set of feelings the other day driving home from an Obama rally. I was flipping around on the radio for news of the rally on AM stations (I know, I should have known better) when I happened upon Cincinnati’s most vile hannity-like-substance, Bill Cunningham (he briefly became notorious for doing the Barack HUSSEIN Obama bit while introducing McCain earlier this year). Cunningham was in full flight — Ayers, ACORN, Wright, socialism, etc, etc. I started to get irritated, and then I thought: “we’re going to beat your ass in 2 days so badly it will repudiate this kind of shit for a long time.” That made me feel much better — now I just hope it’s true!

  • 3 Scott // Nov 5, 2008 at 2:19 am

    Just keep reminding yourself, you get to come back home to America, and the country you helped to create, while they remain where they are.

  • 4 Not One Of Us // Nov 5, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Good on you, funtax.

  • 5 MZ // Nov 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

    So when are you going to fun for office, funtax?

  • 6 Matt // Nov 9, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Good job, the moral high ground is slippery and you did well.

  • 7 DTK // Nov 10, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    your CAPTCHA outsmarted me, and ate my long and winding ode to your ability to do the right thing in any situation. So, let me just say (1) get back stateside so I can (2) buy you a beer and (3) tell you that you rule.

  • 8 dtk // Nov 10, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    3d time’s the charm. I keep failing at your CAPTCHA and losing my eloquentia perfecta. You did the right thing. Can’t wait for you to come home so I can tell you “a winner is you” while buying you a beer.

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