18 Apr The Britt McHenry Effect and Judging
Wow. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for celebrities in the news and how it affects the work we do.
One of those celebs was Britt McHenry.
I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about why the Britt McHenry thing is bugging me so much. In case you don’t know, Britt McHenry is an ESPN television personality who was caught on tape berating a tow truck employee with some pretty personal blows, including the tow truck employee’s job, her education, her (apparently) missing teeth and her weight.
I think it’s been bothering me so much because I put myself in that worker’s shoes. How must it feel to be judged solely on how you look as a way to make you feel bad about youself? How much did it hurt to have your missing teeth made fun of or to be told that you needed to lose weight? How would it feel to have someone pass judgment on your education and background because of the job you’re working to put food on the table for your family?
It hit my heart so hard, I think, because I know and work closely with so many, especially women, who are judged like this on a regular basis.
Take a woman I will call “E.”
E is the type of woman you would see in a grocery store and probably not give a second glance to — a little overweight and jet black hair graying at the temples, frizzed and curled around her face to just below her earlobes.
Her glasses weren’t trendy, but were big and sat up on her wide nose, framing her kind eyes. One of her eyes was closed a little more than the other — had she been drinking? Was she on something that made her look “out of it”?
When she smiled you would probably notice that she was missing some teeth. In today’s society, your mind might automatically wonder if it was something like meth or other drugs that caused the missing teeth.
She walked with a slight limp and held her left arm up as if it was in some invisible cast. If you watched her you might wonder if she was “right in the head.”
If you spoke to E, you would notice a soft voice with a long, southern drawl. You might wander about her education … or lack of.
Those are the judgments that you could make about E from the surface — judgments like missing teeth and weight and lack of education — judgmental words that could turn into venom when spewed from just the right person with such hatred in their heart that it makes you wonder what happened to them in their own life.
Those are the kind of judgments that sting. That shame.
Now, if you talked with E, you would learn that she grew up in Appalachia and never left. She lived the rough life of a tobacco farmer child and then the same as an adult, a great deal of her life without indoor water and plumbing. Her missing teeth may have been because she was too poor to afford dental care, or maybe because her money went to keep her children healthy instead of her own health.
If you took a moment to get to know her instead of just judging by her appearance, you would learn that she gave birth to 11 children and buried several of them in her lifetime, including a baby and a child who was murdered.
Her partially closed eye, the way she held her arm and that limp? That was caused by a stroke that she suffered later in life. E worked daily to make sure that her eye opened again, even though the doctor told her it never would.
All of those surface things — the things that could cause people to pass judgment or say mean words — they have stories. There are stories that we have beyond what we look like or beyond what someone spending just a couple of minutes with us could know.
That’s what bothers me about shameful words that are only used to berate and hurt. When you say mean words to people, they are never forgotten. Ever. Those words can derail and distract and demean in ways that we may never understand.
Those are the same kinds of words and judgments that many Appalachian people fight against every single day.
And, celebrating behavior such as this only serves to highlight something that we should change about our society.
Oh, by the way? The Appalachian woman described earlier? The one that many could have easily judged? That was my grandmother, Eliza, and she was one of the kindest and hardworking individuals that I know. And, it breaks my heart to think that there are people in the world who would’ve said those kinds of demeaning things to her.
So, am I super sensitive about people treating others this way? Hell yes. And, you should be, too.