I’m a “racist Nazi.” Not because my hobbies include marching down the street wielding tiki torches, or because I possess some backwards notion that the shade of one’s skin is in any way connected to one’s worth as a fellow human, but for simply trying to ask “How does one express taking issue with the casting of Ariel strictly because she isn’t a redhead without offending anyone?” last summer when the hot-button topic of the day was Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.
It happened during the monthly gathering of geeks I nervously stumbled into two years prior in an attempt to make friends in my new home while trying to cope with the death of my mother. As someone who has always struggled to make friends, those pub nights were one of the rare times I could engage in stimulating face-to-face dialogue with others.
Ironically, several topics that night referenced the lack of nuanced discussion on social media where people are less likely to analyze and merely overreact. Things eventually turned to Star Trek as they often did, and one person mentioned thanking Patrick Stewart for normalizing baldness, for he liked seeing a powerful, well-respected character on TV who looked like him.
As a child, other kids had said, “redheads bring bad luck” and used my hair colour as an excuse to not let me play with them. And so I was drawn to beloved oddball redheaded characters like Ariel, Madeline, and Annie (the latter of which was also re-cast as a non-ginger). I even went through a phase where I would all but refuse to leave the house unless I was wearing at least one thing with Ariel on it. And so, I looked towards the previous speaker and began to ask my question, but was cut off after “…casting of Ariel—” with an angry yelp.
I turned towards my fellow geek (who happens to be a person of colour) and tried to finish, but was met with a “talk to the hand” gesture and told “No, no!” before she turned to those engaged in a separate discussion of their own. Blood pounded in my ears as I made out the words “racist Nazi.” By the time I got home, I had been banned from the group.
A version of events surfaced on social media in which I, now referred to as an “angry white woman,” deliberately went out of my way to tell the only person of colour in the room that I objected to her casting because of her skin colour, threatened her right to exist, and said I did not think minorities deserved to have the same things I did. These are serious charges, and definitely not true. While my anxiety and depression spiralled out of control, she was met with an outpouring of sympathy and support from everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
A prominent media personality and member of the Order of Canada who witnessed the ordeal was the first and loudest to defend me, and to the impromptu organizer’s credit, an investigation was launched for which I remain grateful. Several other attendees verified my version of events in a manner I could not have done by myself. Nobody verified hers.
Although I was allowed back into the group, I was not welcomed. The outraged party was not reprimanded. Incidentally, neither was an individual with a known history of violently attacking those she disagrees with who had expressed a desire to hit another attendee with her cane that same evening. The former continued to spin her victimized yarn, blowing off one witness’s testimony as “mansplaining,” with people I had hardly ever spoken to saying they had no doubt what she said was true.
The media personality was the first to defect. Others soon left as well, whether they witnessed the events personally or sided with facts. We formed a similar group of our own, free of drama and filled with free-thinkers.
Our first gathering was small, but it felt as though a weight had been lifted. Subjects we knew would trigger members of the original group were wide open for discussion provided you remained respectful and could back up your statement with facts. That’s not to say things didn’t get heated: fisticuffs nearly broke out when someone said Spock is a cardboard character, but at the conclusion of his detailed explanation, the offended person said “I’ll drink to that!” and we all had a laugh.
Since then, we have grown exponentially. Our last get-together may have had more people in attendance than the original. New friendships have been made, and old ones reinforced. I receive more invitations in a month than I used to in a year, and spent Christmas (the anniversary of my suicide attempt) in the company of people who went out of their way to make sure none of their friends were alone for the holiday.
They say it takes adversity to discover who your true friends are. While members of the original group stay within the safety of their echo chamber, those at our new one challenge one another through healthy debate, and we have grown closer and more tolerant for it.