The Dilemma

I have found Charles Blow to be one of the most thoughtful and incisive columnists at the New York Times, and a recent column is an example.

Like many of us, Blow is ready to “move on,” but unsure what such “moving on” requires. Worse still, we are (choose your image) caught between a rock and a hard place, or faced with the perennial choice between chicken and egg. Blow uses an everyday dilemma faced by Blacks as an example:

You are receiving a service for which tipping is a customary practice. Maybe you’re taking a cab or receiving a beauty treatment; maybe having a drink at a bar or eating at a restaurant.

Your service provider is not Black. The service is poor. Your server is not at all attentive. You wait for things far longer than you believe you should or far longer than you believe others in the space are waiting.

When the check comes, what should the customer do? Blow says that there are studies showing  that Black people on average tip less. Studies also show that servers on average provide Black people inferior service. Given the accuracy of those results, a good-sized tip that rewards poor service might help erode the perception that Black folks don’t tip well–and as Blow says, perhaps make the next Black person’s service better. On the other hand, an average or below-average tip, the size merited by the poor service, risks cementing, in the server’s mind, the belief that Black people are poor tippers.

Neither alternative is particularly attractive.

Blow then points out that this is very similar to the dilemma faced by members of minority groups when the party that wants to keep them unequal loses an election.

There is always so much talk of unity and coming together, of healing wounds and repairing divisions. We then have to have some version of the tip debate: Do we prove to them that we can rise above their attempt to harm us or do we behave in a way that is consummate with the harm they tried to inflict?

There is a legitimate argument to be made that a spiral of recriminations will always descend into a hole of collective harm. Still, there must also be an acknowledgment that the prejudiced were trying to harm you and that, but for a few hundred thousand votes in the right states, they would have succeeded in exacting that harm.

There has been, as the column notes, ample evidence of Trump’s bigotries–against Blacks, against women, against (brown) immigrants. The vast majority of people who voted for him were well aware of that evidence. What Blow doesn’t say–but I will–is that Trump’s bigotries and racism were features, not bugs, of his campaign. His endorsement of bigotry– his normalization of racism and sexism–was at the heart of his appeal to more voters than we like to recognize.

The best you can say is that his voters certainly didn’t consider his “out and proud” racism disqualifying. So we are back to the chicken and egg.

Joe Biden, as he has always said, is seeking to be a unifying president, to be the president of the people who didn’t vote for him as well as the ones who did. I want to have that same optimistic spirit, but I must admit that my attempts at it may falter.

I don’t want to be the person who holds a grudge, but I also don’t want to be the person who ignores a lesson. The act of remembering that so many Americans were willing to continue the harm to me and others and to the country itself isn’t spiteful but wise.

Next month Joe Biden will be sworn in and the next chapter of America will begin. I plan to meet that day with the glow of optimism on my face, but I refuse to vanquish the shadow of remembrance falling behind me.

We share the conundrum. How do we model better, more truly patriotic behavior without inadvertently giving unacceptable and harmful behaviors and attitudes a pass?


  1. It is the age old problem. Expectations create a self fulfilling prophecy. It is the Black Lives Matter dilemma, the dilemma that the movement is trying to get across to close minded white folk.

  2. More representatives who are of the minority is one way to achieve this. If our elected bodies more closely resembles those being represented change will happen. Maybe not at the pace we hope for, but it will happen.

  3. Yesterday we learned that Trump is ranting about Marshall Law as a means to hold onto power. He is NOT out of there just let. It is still a little early to consider any “turning the other cheek” stuff.

  4. Easy to take these lofty questions seriously when you are not the one who was ripped from your mother’s arms and locked in a dog cage. Or one of the relatives of a dead Covid victim, or an out of work American or business owner. Forgive and forget? No way in hell!
    Until this country does justice to Trump and his supporters we will not be able to restore our sense of decency much less move on.

  5. I see this whole Trump disaster as a culminating event for those of us in the majority, albeit a slim one, who have finally come to the edge of the abyss of abject tyranny and fascism. The abyss leads directly to the hell that destroyed the German and Japanese cultures that did the same damn things we’re doing to ourselves. Both of those cultures also carried the specter of racism as part of their ideologies. Once again the primitive nature of pre-historic tribalism bangs on the door of civilization to be let out of its closet that “civilization” has put it into.

    More acutely, the Trump “experiment” began with Ronald Reagan/Donald Regan and their mad dash to small government and economic stupidity by embracing Milton Friedman’s lunacy about supply-side economics. Not only doesn’t trickle-down not work, it has inherent racism as part of its structure. So, naturally, Republicans embrace these things gladly. Their rich donors in industry, insurance and banking tell them to.

    I can’t shake the history that says that over 400,000 non-slave holding white men and women died in a Civil War for the economic salvation of maybe 4,000 rich people. The lies about states rights were supplanted by the lies about trickle-down economics. The Vietnam war was perpetrated by lies. So, what does that make our culture seem based on? Tyrannical fascists live on their lies, promote their lies and create wide-spread disasters every time enough people believe them.

    How’s that for a dilemma?

  6. Vernon, you just slashed the cover story off the whole thing. Well done. The wealth and privilege has protected them/insulated them from truth and reality and their willingness to believe they deserve it has enabled them to do unspeakably wrong things to other people, their communities, other living things and our planet. Along the way, many/most of the oppressed/downtrodden have played along to “benefit” from crumbs from the big table. It’s all so wrong and it’s truly taking us down to destruction. But. But we have learned along the way what justice really means. What fairness is. What health is. Living this way won’t achieve those great ideals we have learned. Can we change?

  7. We know one thing we didn’t before: At least 70 million of our neighbors have a capacity for delusion that at one time seemed to be a thing of fiction.

  8. the tip, as a trucker,in a vast array of needing to eat on the road, (trust me,truckstops are not some heaven to eat in) the wait staff,race issue. south,blacks dont tip white,( ill be frank,but as awhole,not as a study) vice versa. at least when pointing at home town folk,and the whos who of racist whoevers. ive been a tipper since i purchaced my first lunch out alone. i was raised to recognize the minimum wage,and who is working such a job. ive had some wait staff be totally nuts and keep ya smiling,and the cup filled. others,not enough,even when the joint is lacking traffic. after umpteen eateries and dives,and such, moms place was always best. seems the independant place, run by someone who was respected,was the brass ring. we all tip there,no matter the who. id like to say thanks to Brothers BBQ in troy ala, for having some of the best waitstaff id ever had.(now closed) of course this blog is about how we view the other side. its a fundamental purpose for racists whites to ignore and carry on as they probably were taught. but ,i will say being down south black folk seldom tip white staff. but then again,the black folk carry many times the weight of minimum wage labor. im looking at who keeps them there,along with other races. as far as eating out, ask questions,before entering in and i dont mean google maps… social media has a affect on the younger gens, face to face dealing with customers,instead the cops get called because someone was a critic of the place or something, this has become a norm now also. call the cops because someone cant handle the bad food or service,and you dont need to raise your voice. but,few if any black owned buisnesses,will call the cops. ya gotta be out here to feel the new norms, and the lack of wishes all, keep safe.
    p.s. since trumps demise, people in NoDak are finally wearing a mask, while the buisnesses are wide open…

  9. “Blow then points out that this is very similar to the dilemma faced by members of minority groups when the party that wants to keep them unequal loses an election.”

    And why would members of the black and brown minority groups trust those who attempt equalizing rights at all levels when the Native Americans are still questioned as to their citizenship? Trump and the Republicans have put this nation in an endless “Great Dilemma” of never again being trusted by our allies or feared by our enemies and the recovery of the trust of this nation internally will always be in doubt because Trump and the Republicans were allowed to destroy that trust along with the pride of being Americans.

    Vernon; kudos for this sentence which needs to be immortalized as part of the legal defense when the Reparation issue is put into action, “I can’t shake the history that says that over 400,000 non-slave holding white men and women died in a Civil War for the economic salvation of maybe 4,000 rich people.” And it has been back in the news again.

    And kudos to Theresa for this one; ” Forgive and forget? No way in hell!”

  10. The people who spent the last 5 years supporting a man who took the low road every time he was given the option are going to throw the democrats desire to unify the country in their face. It will be used as a weapon to justify their own boorish behavior and yield power as the minority in a very extreme type of whataboutism. My personal feeling is that we should take the high road and reinstitute democratic norms in an attempt to reduce the slide of those practices. If only to take the weapon from them. I want to take this time to celebrate. I also want those people who supported Trump to acknowledge what a horrible human he is and their role in giving him power (one can dream.) How do we confront the racism and bigotry? We need to move forward with change. It is always slower than it should be but I have no right to argue patience. I do however see a different argument for justification. I have always held that white male Christian etc privilege is the ability to be taken as an individual with benefit of the doubt before having to escape from an association with a group identity. I hear the 2nd amendment guys shout that they shouldn’t beheld accountable for the crimes committed by other gun owners. I want to throw that back in their face and weaponize it. Why do law abiding black people have to explain criminals in their community when whites don’t have the same obligation. Especially when all they want is a responsive police force that treats them as someone who should be protected and not a default criminal. A police force that responds quickly when they report a burglary, takes the crime seriously and tries to find the culprits, and doesn’t try to turn the victim into a criminal. A police force that doesn’t stop them for going about their day in a not-so-subtle reminder that police are their to protect others from their community and not protected themselves. Everyone wants to be treated as an individual.

  11. Hey Vernon, seeds of another book? I’m liking it brother.

    We talk about racism a lot, and then the phrase that’s been coined, “systemic racism” like somehow that really is a thing, and a thing that can be corrected!

    There is nothing systemic about racism, racism is inbred in the human condition! Like I’ve mentioned before, just read ” the white man’s burden” by Rudyard Kipling!

    The older generation, when were talking about tips, of African American citizenry, has a problem with tipping. Because most of the older folks remember the stories from their elders past concerning slavery and basically working for nothing.

    In the area where I live, it is predominantly Latino, and I will guarantee, they don’t tip well either. It’s more of a cultural issue and ancestry, the same as those of African-Americans. It’s not a racist issue, it’s an issue along the lines of people being leery of being vaccinated! The history is there, they were used as experiments, experiments to make things safer for those who sat on the top rung of our society which happened to be white!

    Pay a livable wage, people won’t have to subsist on tips!

    For something to be systemic, there has to a been a point before that systemic issue arose, but the caste system and ethnic superiority has been there from the beginning of recorded history. So it was never, “not like that” it was always racist. Just like trickle-down economics, the grudge of racist conduct has trickled down from the top, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” That mentality has polluted everything! There are a lot of reasons, that’s probably just one. Even in the best of societies, has there ever been equality?

    The wealthy, always were and always will be the driving force behind the caste system and capitalistic inequity. Because if you eliminate the caste system from your dogma of governance, it will still be there in a capitalistic sense. Someone always has to be on top, and for millennia it’s been white wealthy Protestant evangelicals! Although, the fanaticism has gotten much worse because it has been unchecked.

    Why else would people who in many cases don’t have a pot to pee in, roil against healthcare that would allow them to live a better life? Instead of investigating for themselves, they listen to those same upper echelon capitalists, political leeches, and religious hypocrites who have always been able to control the narratives in a way that taps into their followers innate distrust of those “Others” not like them.

    There really is nothing systemic about that, racism is controlled by certain elements of government, the privileged, and religion, which has conjoined to become the unseen overlords of hatred and conflict among civil societies and even authoritarian kingdoms. Kind of like the Wizard of Oz, and the man behind the curtain! We see that in the office of POTUS today! Authoritarian? Hateful? Racist? Absolutely! But the man behind the curtain is really just a greedy coward that could not accomplish this on his own. So, once again, history is the guide! And it seems to work every single time.

    Joseph Goebbel’s really explained how the propaganda works, and, we see it all over our society today, the ethnic divide, the class or caste divide, the religious divide, if you can keep the division alive, you consolidate power. When a person tells a lie often enough, it becomes the truth in their own reality. And there has been so much lying going on as far back as history has been written, it becomes reality and truth becomes a misnomer!

    I would say, instead of systemic racism, I would say it’s more like instantiation racism driven by those behind the curtain.

  12. In my simplistic mind, we have two scenarios for the next….100 years. The optimistic one…racism and classism will slowly die out as generations of optimistic young people “practice what they preach” and American fulfills its idealized values. (Alternative – racists congregate further and form a new country).

    Or….and it won’t take 100 years by any means…GOP takes the House by 2024, holds the Senate and elects Trump or Tom Cotton (or the like). Goodbye democracy….

  13. With wage and wealth inequality at its zenith these days, Vern’s observation that hundreds of thousands of non-slave white men and women died for the economic salvation of maybe 4,000 rich people is again coming true as poor Americans of all colors are dying for want of medical coverage, Trump’s indifference to the pandemic, guns, etc., as we are once again led to believe that our economy is owned by the rich and corporate class (and their financiers). Delusion and propaganda (including fear, flag waving, exceptionalism) in 2020 and that of 1861 are similar and sedition and treason are beginning to rear their ugly heads. The new Fort Sumter is not based on geography and cotton; it dwells in the hearts and minds of the aggrieved in every neighborhood among us.

    It was easy enough to march south but how does one march against his neighbor? We have a problem, and it’s not just in Houston.

  14. Gerald, I concur with your analysis.


    Actually, the book I’m working on now will have an ending 1/3 that will address the very issues being discussed today. You and I sing from the same hymnal on this stuff.

  15. ” The act of remembering that so many Americans were willing to continue the harm to me and others and to the country itself isn’t spiteful but wise.”

    Difficult to go through our days bearing this in mind. And yet, this frightening thought is what Blacks have carried with them for centuries.

  16. I seem to roll back often to use the personal culture model to understand individual behavior. We emulate the behaviors of those who we deem to be like us as we move through childhood. That doesn’t deny though the average behavior that large groups of individuals display as a collective average. In the most inclusive sense, it becomes human behavior.

    Also I think often of evolution and natural selection as the path life took to adapt to changing environments even though those who couldn’t evolve fast enough paid the price of extinction.

    “We”, from the perspective of our democracy, aren’t liberals or conservatives or authoritarians or progressives but the current mix of all of the cultures who vote. We have evolved to a place at odds with the current human environment and face a choice between cultural adaption and extinction as a democratic free society.

    The question is can Biden/Harris move the whole country to a culture that’s functional in this world fast enough to save our democracy?

    The answer is probably not without some very fundamental changes in what we in total believe and behave collectively and consistently (some of which is out of the reach of government).

    The good news is that we have taken a step towards collective sanity. Personally, I’m counting on life’s normal attrition rate to give us a little boost.

  17. I think it can be safely said, the GOP has been trying not only to shrink their tent. They have tried to prevent the construction of other tents, i.e., through various mechanisms to suppress the votes of others outside their tent.

    Heather Cox Richardson, writes on her blog:

    “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters,” wrote Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci.

    There are monsters, indeed. Today, New York Times journalists Maggie Haberman and Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported that Trump held a long meeting at the White House yesterday with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani; disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whom Trump recently pardoned for lying to the FBI; and Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell.

    These four are the heart of those insisting—without evidence—that Trump won the 2020 election. They have talked of Trump declaring martial law and holding new elections. In the meeting, Trump apparently asked about appointing Powell as special counsel to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election.

    One thing we can be sure of The Trumpet has a nose for Scams and The Trump Cult are the perfect “marks”.

  18. Two thoughts about today’s discussion.
    1) For the anti-vaccers and doubters, look around and observe who is lining up to get vaccinations as soon as possible. LA Times has an article detailing the extent to which the wealthy and powerful are going to game the system and cut the line for a vaccination. It is wealthy, white people for the most part. See who in the Congress are parading their vaccinations. Pence and McConnell. Would these people not be the last to want a vaccination if they believed it would enchip them or was somehow a hoax?

    2) Pam is exactly right. What we are now consciously living with on a daily basis, perhaps for the first time in our lives, uncertainty, insecurity, distrust of anyone who doesn’t look like us, has been the default for POC and indigenous people for their entire lives for generations. Forgiving and forgetting are much different from one another. I may forgive but will never forget.

  19. From the beginning of humankind’s existence, what have we noticed? Men or mankind divides itself willingly by culture (including language), ethnicity, skin colors and facial features!

    If we are to believe what the anthropologists have been telling us, every new breed of man wiped out the previous. And, when there were no new breeds of men, they started wiping out or enslaving those that were not like themselves. Certain cultures were adaptable and were able to forcefully subjugate their fellow man. Where in recorded or anthropological history has this not been the case?

    There always has to be a group at the top of the pyramid. That group desires power and authority. They will use the differences between them and others as a wedge and to stoke fear which thereby solidifies their hold on power. Humankind is a species that follows, but why does humankind choose to follow the most evil amongst us, how does that hold traction? Those who promoted peace usually were executed, no matter how many followers they might of had. We can look at history, and is the same all the way through.

    The strong will always manipulate the weak, because the week usually have no hope and they would rather follow a leader because it’s easier to have someone else do your thinking. No matter how wrong and evil it happens to be! There is always great angst at the end of a particularly cruel cycle, but, by time that generation is gone, a new cycle begins. History is cyclical, humankind never learns from it! We talk about human dignity, but human dignity is really an illusion. Because if we wanted dignity for all humanity, we wouldn’t have these cyclically infused intrusions of the evil into the human species.

    Wanting to do right, wanting to be good, having compassion, having empathy, having respect, promoting human dignity, being your brother’s keeper, all should be a tenant of humanity, instead, the lack of it, damns humanity in its present form, as, viable inheritors of their own future!

    Man, we don’t need an asteroid to wipe us off the map, or out of the universes memory, we’re just fine at doing it ourselves!

  20. John wrote @ 1:17 pm:

    Humankind is a species that follows, but why does humankind choose to follow the most evil amongst us, how does that hold traction?

    The answer I believe was alluded to in the book – Bloodlands by Yale historian Timothy D. Snyder.

    > Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative Utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory. <

    Stalin and Hitler were extremes. The average German or Soviet Citizen that witnessed their neighbors, family or friends rounded up would live in fear. You might try to get "small" so to speak and be under the radar of the police state or join the police state or be an informer.

    As member of the Police State or an informer you would have to prove your worth and loyalty. A way to do this is by accusing even innocent people.

    Survival is the strongest compelling need. You can always find people willing to commit crimes or brutality as long as they can remain even a small cog in the system.

    The illiterate bottom dwelling white man in the old slave system of the South knew one thing – He was better than the slaves and made sure he was loyal tool of the wealthy elite who kept him just a half step above the slaves.

  21. Vernon, you did nail it!
    Pam, and obviously others have added wealth to the discussion. ML, you scare me, as I had not run into that news before. Still, the idea of Trump’s doing that was never beyond my considering.
    I voiced that fear to a friend, a retired Marine Major, having preceded it with the hope that the military would not support such a move. She was reassuring, saying that military brass take their oath to protect the constitution VERY seriously. I know almost nothing about martial law, but assume that it’s declaration involves the military taking over functions of gov’t, under the leadership (HA!) of the president. Essentially, it seems, that is the case.
    My fantasy is that he declares MartialLaw, and the military marches into the WH, and pulls his ass out of it!
    What do I do, as the theoretical recipient of the lousy service, as in Blow’s dilemma? Do I drop a decent tip, as a way of giving the waiter the finger? Do I drop a decent tip because I want to do my bit to erase the stereotype? Do I, perhaps, leave no tip, thus giving the waiter “just desserts?”
    Whatever I do, as in so much in life, will be seen through the lens of the waiter’s perspective, and twisted to conform with his/her bias. There will be no “lesson.”
    What do we do, what does BidenHarris do? That will also be seen through the filter of the fevered brains of the Trumpists, and their kin. Perhaps the answer lies in having a “Truth and Reconciliation” program as did South Africa. In that way there would be no “need” to forget and forgive. Forgetting would be toxic in the long run. The sickness in our culture that Trump brought out, like a boil that needs lancing, has to be directly addressed, in some sort of “civil’ manner for the sake of what is still called this great “Experiment.”

  22. ML,

    Well put! I agree, if you can get some benefit by licking the wealthy’s boots, in other words, a half step further up the ladder over your fellow man, they’re all in!

    It’s a shame, and those who are doing the boot licking, are the ones who run around waving the flags and pointing to themselves as being Superior somehow! While the entire time, standing around with their mouths open as the conspiracy theory manure spreader rolls by feeding the ignorant!

  23. I don’t think the trump administration should be left off the hook for the dangerous affront on American Democracy the last five years, and the effect/affect it has had on us. It was clear their political trajectory was aimed toward an authoritarian oligarhcy enforced by military, police and trump’s vigilante fans. The disregard for prescedent, laws & diversity that make up US was more than offensive. We’ve wasted so much time, energy and resources reeling around a wannabe dictator, who’s split from reality, facts and science have caused unnecessary hardships, fear and grief for many (majority) of Americans.
    James Carvel’s way of describing political events is usally plain and straight forward; he recently stated that” trump won’t look the same after he’s not President”. Once Biden’s secures the power of Presidency, my hope is that part of unifying Americans will be dealing with the corruptness that was at the head. I think we’ll get an indication of Biden’s intent by his choice of AG, and hope Kamala Harris will have input on that decision.

  24. Sorry, but Charles Blow uses a bad analogy. Can you really compare bad service, with instigating murder and attempting to overthrow our democracy?

    Sorry, but I don’t think so.

    Also, he is thinking in binary – life is analog – it isn’t good tip or bad tip – there is also average tip (BTW – Washingtonian magazine routinely surveyed restaurant workers and delivery people – Democrats were much better tippers than Republicans – I suspect that Republicans got the same level of service, though)

    There are many reasons for bad service – a boss cutting back on hours, a notice threatening to turn off electricity, and my favorite classic (my mother’s excuse to always tip well) – a fight with their boyfriend.
    I saw this last one, live, one day in Greenwich Village – outdoors – cab pulls up – man embraces waitress – the level of service flipped from terrible to excellent – just saying

    Now, tell me the other excuses for caging children, encouraging violence, and attempting to overthrow democracy.

    Remember, life isn’t binary – Nixon sending people to go around with “get out of jail free” cards for anyone who would accuse a person on his hit list is not the same as letting an independent Justice Department investigate wrong-doing.

    It is fine and all to want to emphasize the Biden is President of all of the people, but you don’t do this by catering to the Trumpers and saying “everything is fine”. If someone moves the football from the 50-yard line to the your 5-yard line, you don’t say “It’s OK, we don’t want to seem vindictive, play it from here.” Democrats have been doing that, trying to woe the opposition while ignoring their base.

    Better to let the Justice Department do their thing and concentrate on policies that actually do help everyone. Some of the Trumpers, who won’t change their basic racism (or fear or whatever), will relegate those impulses to the back burner and enjoy more job prosperity — and perhaps security knowing that the government will help them in hard times. It is not quite putting the toothpaste back in the tube, but the next best thing, and all that we can hope for with some people.

    Forgive, don’t forget, but also don’t allow a new norm to be set – it is time to start to push the Overton Window back where it belongs.

  25. Forgive and forget; move on; come together?

    Listen up. Fine; it’s one set of ethics that makes it okay and honorable for you INDIVIDUALLY to turn your cheek, but it is an entirely different set of ethics, a dishonorable ethic, for leaders to turn the CUMALATIVE cheek, to turn your cheek and my cheek and half the country’s cheek.

  26. It’s assuring to me there are no obvious writer_contributors above…who are remotely content with the leadership of the last four years of discontent. Good and articulate writers all….and I’m always enthusiastic to read Sheila’s blog in your companies each day. I hope the POTUS and his lackeys….will face criminal charges for their lawlessness of the last four years….I remain disposed unfavorably of those 74+ million tRUMP voters of this recent election….to never favor them for anything….I want and expect justice for republican “leaders”……..and proper karma for those who only voted republican.

Comments are closed.