Ugly Americans

There was an incident in Florida. Not the shooting at Pulse or the gator at Disney World. It should have been innocuous: a couple of dudes from Brazil filming tricks on self-balancing scooters known as hoverboards. Not a big deal, no cause for concern. Probably trying to be the next YouTube stars - inspired by people like Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera.

What elevated their video from stupid tricks to an incident was the actions of a third party. An obese white woman in an SUV pulled to a stop in the middle of the road (blocking traffic) to berate the two boys in an onslaught of racist and homophobic rants. She assumed they were of Arab decent and were studying the flight patterns from a nearby airport to plot the next big terrorist attack. The worst part of her vulgar and belligerent verbal assault is that she lauded herself as someone who loved Jesus while these two boys were condemned to hell.

One of the two wannabe YouTubers filmed the exchange from his phone. A friend of mine shared his video on Facebook and I watched in shocked fascination like seeing a train wreck happen in slow motion. I couldn't help but think this woman represented everything that is wrong with America. Angry. Hateful. Xenophobic. Jingoistic. Arrogant. Ham-fisted. Obnoxious. Filled with blunderbuss. Generally unhealthy. Ignorant and oblivious. Granted, I know people like this are not symbolic of all Americans. I know they are a noisy and horrific minority emboldened by the flagrant violations of civility displayed by those who want to lead our nation. Yet they are the stereotype. They are the Ugly Americans our foreign friends think of when asked to describe American tourists.

Even worse, if you ask your atheist friends to describe how they view the average Christian, this woman is what they describe. Hostile, judgmental, hypocritical, paranoid, fearful, unintelligent, and rude. It grieves me to see displays like this - when people who claim to live under the banner of Jesus act in ways contrary to fundamental Christian doctrine. People like this Floridian woman fit the description of what Brennan Manning called the greatest cause of atheism:

When Jesus described the greatest commandment, He told us to love God with every element of our being. He then quoted Levitical law to describe the second greatest command: love your neighbor as you love yourself. I thought of those verses of scripture while watching the confrontation between this woman and the two guys from Brazil. Is this the kind of love that Jesus talked about? It can't be. Does this woman know who is her neighbor? Is she really loving them the way she loves herself? If so, she is abnormally self-loathing. Even if the worst of what she assumed was true, was she abiding by what Jesus instructed in the gospel of Luke? “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who are cruel to you.” How could she? There was nothing loving or good or prayerful about her stream of insults, profanities, and derogatory comments. If what the apostle John wrote about love is true – “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God and anyone who does not love does not know God,” then I find it unbelievable that this woman knows the God she claimed to love.

There was a part of me that wanted to share the video. I thought 'We should make her famous for all of the wrong reasons. Turn her into a sensation like the Chewbacca mom, but in reverse. She should be shamed and humiliated.' But I abstained. Here is why.

1. It was horrifically disgusting. I am not typically offended by foul language. One of the songs on the soundtrack to my life is Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, a song with a chorus that sings "It was not your fault but mine, I really F@#%ed it up this time." One of my all-time favorite movies is Kevin Smith's Clerks - they drop several dozen f-bombs in that script and I laugh. I hear vulgarities throughout the day almost every day and usually shrug it off. Even with my high threshold for what it takes to offend me, this woman exceeded it with gusto and kept going. The depths of her crudity was astounding - in casual obscenities, in racial and homophobic slurs, in her graphic depiction of sexual acts, in her relentless attempt to paint these two boys as terrorists and pedophiles. I know that many of my friends and family have more delicate tolerance for unwholesome talk than me; if I was offended by the language in the video, I know several who would be greatly appalled.

2. The altercation ended poorly. The Brazilian boys didn’t invite their attacker's verbal barrage. They didn't deserve it. I would expect them to respond defensively; that is the normal fight or flight response humanity has hardwired into our brains. When threatened, we either freeze or retaliate. These two boys fought back but they did not do so gracefully. In some ways, their response was just as ugly as the woman who started it. Instead of deescalating the situation, they riled the woman up even more. While I can't fault them, I don't applaud their actions either.

3. In light of the hate crime and terrorist attack in Orlando, the LGBT community is already fearful of people like this woman. They are hurt. They don't feel safe. They are scared. I've chatted with a few of my gay friends over the past couple weeks and they all have expressed similar emotions. The shooting in Orlando was terrifying, but many of the reactions from straight conservatives have been just as hurtful. Reposting a video where someone demonstrates so much vile hatred for my gay friends would only add insults to the injury they've already endured. I value their friendships too much to subject them to more contempt.

4. Would sharing the video make me any better than her? If I believe that the two Brazilians were what Jesus would say were her neighbors, then wouldn't she be my neighbor? If she failed to demonstrate love to her neighbors, then I would also fail to show love by sharing a video with the intent to shame and humiliate. If I am to live the way I believe God commands me, then I must show love to people I don't like, I must love people that offend me. Even if they are complete strangers. Honestly, I don't always get it right. Sometimes, I should show love and fail to do it.

5. There is enough anger and hate in our world. I really don’t want to add to the noise. If I am going to climb up on a soap box, I would rather shout about grace and reconciliation than to point at someone and say "Look at this fool." Instead I cling to the words of Martin Luther King Jr, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." When I fail to live up to the standard I proclaim, it is time I admit it like I am now and aim to do better the next time.


  1. I share your sentiment Nic, as unfortunately, the loudest and most obnoxious take the attention, and become, if not de jure, de facto, representatives of subgroups, like Christians in your example. It takes honor and patience, and shall we say, grace, to abstain...

    1. And trial and error because as much as I believe in grace, it take practice to figure it out.