I Don't Know What I Don't Know

http://images5.aplus.com/uc-up/f5a72d73-067b-412c-be29-33e13ba61d1a/f5a72d73-067b-412c-be29-33e13ba61d1a.crop_3150x1654_0,89.resize_1200x630.format_jpeg.inline_yes.jpgMost of us are guilty of occasional acts of racism, sexism, and other bad isms.  We harbor deplorable attitudes and we allow them to exist in our thoughts and words and actions.  Maybe we don't care, maybe we do but just can't help ourselves. 

More common than that, though, are acts of racism, sexism, and other bad isms out of sheer ignorance.  We think, say, or do something with no intent of malice or prejudice, but that causes great offense.  What happens next is predictable: we're called on it, we protest that we didn't know and meant no harm, we're called out for our non-apology, we offer the "if I offended anyone I'm sorry" pseudo-apology, that's called out as weak sauce, and we leave in a huff because "I really and truly didn't know!"  If this has never happened to you, you are either lying or live a more sheltered existence than I do.

But here's my question.  Is ignorance a suitable defense?  Is it true that "you really ought to have known better"?  Are there certain things that we ought to know, and if we don't then shame on us?

I had to confess - to a group I am a part of that is advising a company on issues of diversity, no less - that when the Twitterverse exploded earlier this month over Joe Scarborough's seemingly innocent but actually quite offensive suggestion to Hillary Clinton that she smile after a good night at the polls, my initial reaction to the original tweet was that it was more innocent than offensive.  I probably ought to have known better, or at least my colleagues suggested to me as much when I shared this with them.

But whether I ought to have or not, I didn't.  I don't know what I don't know, and my ignorance on this issue was laid bare by the litmus test of this Twitterstorm.

To my credit, I did what I think is the right thing to do when it is exposed that you don't know that you don't know something, which is to learn about it.  Rather than remaining in my ignorance, and from that position of ignorance lobbing protests of over-sensitivity and false outrage, I did some homework to rectify my ignorance.  It didn't take much time to understand why Scarborough's tweet was so hurtful.  So now I know.

I think we put too much stock in assuming that people should "just know," and not enough stock in pushing people to "get to know."  In other words, we assume that people are either "woke" or not, and shame on them when something like Scarborough's tweet comes up and they prove that they're not.

What we should be doing for others - and, really, because we're all ignorant about a lot of things, for ourselves as well - is encouraging folks to respond to situations in which something that we don't know we don't know is exposed, to not respond with defensiveness but rather with a desire to get to know.

To be sure, just out of living life in a decent manner, we should become informed on a number of things to the point that it is completely fair for folks to expect us to "know better."  All I'm saying is that, no matter how conscious we are, there are numerous things we don't know we don't know, and when those things come into play, it is my hope  that our first impulse is not to justify ourselves or dismiss others' outrage, but rather to seek to listen and learn. 
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