Shoveling Shit Against the Tide: How the Politics of Bruce Springsteen Make Me Confront My Shortcomings. And Yours.

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By Craig ONeal (The Boss~Live!), via Wikimedia Commons

Recently someone wrote to me letting me know he is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. He went on to say that Springsteen is a great lyricist and I agreed.

He wrote back again.

Not a bad guitarist or showman either. Actually the only thing I don’t like is his politics.

I responded, I’m very much a fan of all that. Including his politics.

The response I received was that this person opposed Springsteen’s decision to cancel a concert in North Carolina after they passed the HB2 Act ordering people to use the restroom that corresponds with the person’s gender at birth. The law also eliminates anti-discrimination protection for the LGBTQ population.

My inbox correspondent stated that the only people Springsteen “hurt” were his fans. Also, liberals call people names when they lose arguments.

My response is copied below, and I indicate where I’ve edited it:

I would probably be considered liberal, though I prefer not to label myself. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced liberals calling people names. I’ve experienced the exact opposite. Conservatives calling me “libtard,” telling me to “suck it up,” and “quit being a whiny bitch.”

I applaud his stance on cancelling concerts in North Carolina and I hope he continues to do so since that state’s government seems bent on eroding people’s rights. He didn’t just hurt his fans, a risk he took that alienated some fans of his. He also took business away from that state. Which will hopefully encourage business oweners there to take a stand and encourage their legislators to get rid of that law.

It may be easy for you to say, “If you have a penis, use that bathroom.” But I encourage you to remember that you (I assume) don’t have to wonder what it will look like if you use a bathroom that someone else decides you have no right being in. You have never experienced that fear. Neither have I. And so I read and speak to and listen to those who have so that I can try to understand exactly what is the big deal.

HERE I REFERENCED A PHOTO OF A WOMAN WITH WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED A TRADITIONALLY FEMININE BODY, WHO ALSO HAD A PENIS. I AM NOT LINKING IT HERE BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO DRAG THAT PERSON INTO THIS DISCUSSION.

What bathroom should she use?

If she walks into a men’s room looking like that she runs the risk, just as I would, of being groped, harassed, or worse. If she uses the women’s room in NC, she runs the risk of being called a pervert and being arrested. That’s if she’s lucky. If she’s not, she’ll end up harassed, beaten, or worse.

I’m a woman. Listen to what I, and other women, have to say about “perverts.” They’re everywhere. I’ve been harassed, groped, called disgusting names. Other women I know have been assaulted, raped, beaten.

It doesn’t happen in the women’s bathroom. It happens everywhere. On the street. In stores. At work.

If you’re worried about your daughters, I encourage you to focus on educating men about how they speak to and treat women.

I am not going to quote the person. I just don’t feel like asking permission to share his words here. Plus, I’m not in the mood to edit for spelling and grammar.

His argument back was protect the children. They are all in danger from bathroom pedophiles and while he feels bad that this might negatively impact transgender people, he’s going to protect the little girls of the world. And that doesn’t make him a bad person.

No matter what I said, that’s what he kept coming back to. Sorry, but kids are more important in his book. Besides, he sometimes gets the shit end of the stick. Like when he gets searched a lot by the TSA because of his Irish name. (Something about the IRA.)

I said things like:

But your life isn’t in danger at the hands of the TSA. That example doesn’t really align with her experience.

And

They aren’t pervs. They are transgender.

And

Pedophiles don’t generally dress as women to get into the ladies room to attack children.

Which, I think, can give you an idea of the things he was saying. Oh, except at the end when he asked if we could discuss something less depressing. Like, how about something kinky?!?!

Uh, no. Actually, fuck no.

Finally I asked for his bathroom attack statistics and he said I could google them. He admitted it’s a low number, but it’s on the rise, according to him, because of these bathroom laws. Then he wished me well.

What can I say to that?

I hear what you’re saying and I know nothing of what it is like to be transgender and not feel safe using a restroom in public. I hear that it is humiliating and dangerous. I hear you when you say women are more in danger out of a public restroom than in it because of how men treat them. I hear all of that. But I am going to stick to my original position of saying I don’t give a rat’s pink ass because I’m protecting the tiny child wimmenz.

That’s a strong refusal to experience any type of empathy for a human being.

And I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t know how to deal with someone who dismisses me during a calm, respectful conversation the minute I ask him to back up his claims with facts.

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I take my kids to an indoor pool fairly regularly. A few weeks ago while there, the lifeguard, an older man with a long ponytail both in his hair and in his beard, popped in a CD.

The first song was an uncommonly heard Bruce Springsteen song that I adore. It has very personal significance to my life, so of course my ears perked up. When the song ended, other songs by other artists came on, making it clear the CD was a mix and leading me to believe he probably made it. He probably chose that song himself.

The CD played on repeat while we were there. When the song came on for the third time, he had gotten up from his lifeguard chair and was standing near me, so I bit.

Are you a Springsteen fan?

I used to be.

Now, I know I’m biased, but used to be? What is that shit?

So I reply, Oh. I just assumed because of the song. That’s not a song of his you typically hear from a casual fan.

He smiled. Yeah, I love his work. I’ve seen him live. Incredible show. I just can’t stand his politics anymore.

At this point, I’m already done. One, because I do like his politics and I’m not looking to debate this guy. I’m here to swim and play with my kids. Two, because I’m typically able to disconnect the artist from the person. I realize not everyone else can, and that’s their choice, and also not something I’m looking to debate.

But he continues.

I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but years ago there was an incident with the police in New York City . . .

Let’s come to a full stop here for a moment.

Because my head, at this very moment, sounds like the inside of a church bell with all its ringing. I know exactly where he’s going with this, not just because I’m a Springsteen fan, but because I grew up right outside NYC.

I want to make sure you know where he’s going.

Super long story short:

On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, a black man and undocumented immigrant working as a street vendor, stood outside his Bronx apartment building shortly after midnight.

Four plainclothes NYPD officers in an unmarked police car drove by, decided he was either a possible serial rapist suspect or maybe just standing there as a lookout (he was neither), and jumped out of their car.

He started running up stairs and pulled his wallet out of his jacket. The officers decided the wallet was a gun and the four of them fired their weapons 41 times, hitting him with 19 bullets. Diallo was unarmed.

He died. None of the officers were convicted. For one of them, Kenneth Boss, this was the second time he shot and killed an unarmed man. He still retained his job with the NYPD, given desk duty for a few years until his gun was returned in 2012. In 2015 he was promoted to sergeant.

Bruce Springsteen wrote a song in response to the incident titled “American Skin (41 Shots).” It premiered at a concert he performed in Atlanta on June 4, 2000. From there, he and the E Street Band headed to NYC for a ten show run at Madison Square Garden.

As word of the new song spread, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch wrote a letter to the association’s members. “The title seems to suggests that the shooting of Amadou Diallo was a case of racial profiling — which keeps repeating the phrase, ‘Forty-one shots,’ it read. “I consider it an outrage that he would be trying to fatten his wallet by reopening the wounds of this tragic case at a time when police officers and community members are in a healing period.” He also “strongly urge[d]” that officers neither attend the concert nor moonlight as security at any of his shows.

Lynch wasn’t the only one upset. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir also condemned Springsteen, while Bob Lucente, the president of the New York chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, took things a step further by referring to the singer as a “dirtbag” and a “floating f–.”

(Read More: How Bruce Springsteen Angered the New York Police Department)

I’m going to go a step further and clarify for you exactly what Bob Lucente, head of the New York chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, stated.

“He’s turned into some type of fucking dirtbag. He has all these good songs and everything, American flag songs and all that stuff, and now he’s a floating fag. You can quote me on that.

Sounds totally like a guy I want leading a police organization.

Let’s forget about the fact that the song actually takes a nuanced look at the incident, singing with empathy for both sides of the coin. The NYPD did not want him playing the song in New York. Because police officers were trying to heal.

Springsteen played it anyway.

Let’s cut back to me and the lifeguard.

He said, I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but years ago there was an incident with the police in New York City . . .

I looked him in the eye and said, Amadou Diallo.

Huh?

I continued.

I grew up in New York. The man’s name was Amadou Diallo. I assume that’s what you’re referring to.

Oh yeah, he said with a snap of his fingers. Yeah, I didn’t like that. The cops asked him not to play that song and he just wouldn’t listen. Just made more trouble for them at a time when they didn’t need it.

I walked away. I’d already crossed my arms as he was speaking, and then a second prior to him even finishing that sentence, I walked away.

What can I say to that? I gave up before I even began, and I’m ashamed of that.

An unarmed man was fired upon 41 times and shot 19 times and died on the steps of his apartment building but don’t sing that song because you might hurt somebody’s feewings.

That’s a strong refusal to experience any type of empathy for a human being.

And I don’t know how to deal with that.

I slipped back into the water and half heartedly played with my kids a bit longer, then left.

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While these two examples are very similar, they actually illustrate two different things that frustrate me.

In the first instance, I was writing. I didn’t feel the need to back down. I was calm and the conversation never got nasty. But as soon as I mentioned statistics, he shut the conversation down.

It happens to me all the time.

In the second instance, I was quiet and walked away because I hate confrontation and I feel as if I don’t articulate as well when I speak as I do when I write.

I hate that I do that.

Both things frustrate me to no end. I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

I get frustrated when I back down, and even more frustrated when others shut down once they realize I’m intelligent and am going to want to discuss actual facts.

Ultimately, I’m trying to figure out how to get through a willful, stubborn refusal to see anything but a person’s own experience. That’s all I seek.

The wisdom and strength to know how to navigate these conversations. I don’t know how to get people to listen. I don’t know how to refuse to be dismissed.

It feels, in the end, like I don’t know how to be taken seriously.

Or how to be brave.

 

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