Do people insert politics into otherwise apolitical situations?

During a recent lunch with friends, I became angered by someone inserting politics into a situation where no politics belonged.

Let me explain.

There were five of us at a pizza place in a small town 20 minute drive from our house in North Carolina. It was me, my wife Tina and three friends. We’ll call them Bill, Mary & Monica.

Tina sells purses online, and just before we left the house, she received an inquiry about one of her bags. While at the restaurant, she tried to send/receive messages, but she complained she could not.

“See,” she said holding out her phone, “This won’t send.” I looked at her screen, first at the message and then up to the top right of her iPhone screen.

“You’ve only got one bar of reception,” I pointed out. “We must be in a dead zone.” I checked my phone, and tried to download a webpage from my browser. It timed out. It wouldn’t load.

“Yeah, I’ve got no reception either, hun, I don’t either.” I said for all to hear. I was sitting next to Bill and his phone was in his hand. “Bill lemme see your phone.”

A beat passed. Confirmed. One bar, too.

“Yeah, man,” I said. “You don’t have reception either.”

Read more: Do people insert politics into otherwise apolitical situations?

One phone out of three with no reception, that might be the phone’s fault. Three phones with the same reception = cellular services fault.

Tina put her phone down and decided she’d try again after lunch when we moved to a location with reception.

A dead zone. That’s simply a spot where little to no reception renders a phone close to useless. No voice or data will move to or from that space with any efficacy.

Then my buddy Bill gets a phone call and he’s clearly having trouble with the call. “Hello? Hello? I can come … Can you hear me? Hello?”

“We don’t have any reception in here, Bill.”

Bill insisted on trying to get ahold of the person who called, who happens to be black and poor. He lives in a subsidized apartment and the guy needed my buddy Bill to stop by and do some repairs.

There was a moment of chaos at the table, a place I believe is sacred where phones should be off the table. Tina was still identifying that she couldn’t use her phone and Bill was also speaking very loudly trying to connect with the tenant from the subsidized apartment. Between attempts, Bill explained that this guy complains a lot about how the color of his skin means the world is out to get him. He explained that this guy is a pack rat and it’s a challenge to repair things in the apartment where he’s lived for many years.

My interpretation of this rant was politically motivated racism. Which also qualifies as inserting politics where, perhaps, there was none. This was clearly an attack on person based on the color of his skin and the assumption that this guy complaining about not getting a fair shake as white people trying to keep down a person of color.

Then Bill tried the call again, while we all sat wondering when Bill was going to understand that we all have the same carrier, and that carrier’s reception in this restaurant was simply not available.

Suddenly, Bill blurts out, “Uh, this call won’t go through. He must have an Obama Phone!”

My face flooded with blood. Not only had I made clear multiple time that we were in a cellular dead zone, now we’ve entered into a racist take on the former president of the United States who Bill has expressed multiple times was a failure and how much he dislikes him. But Bill also blamed his own problem on the black man’s government issued phone.

I lost my shit. “Jesus, Bill, don’t be an asshole! Give this guy some grace. Why would you say that!?!”

I berated Bill hard. I was shaking.

Why blame someone else for something whose fault is the cellular infrastructure in the area. Cellular reception doesn’t care about who anyone voted for in 2016 or 2020 or 2022. Cell reception doesn’t care what websites you read or what TV stations you watch, or what Youtube channels you subscribe to.

I got up and left. I was so pissed off. Not only had this guy accused the guy of suckling off the government and taking advantage of his landlord, which had already introduced a politically motivated attack of this guy’s character, he decided to blame a phone, issued under Obama’s presidency six to 10 years ago. And this shitty phone was the reason for this the failure of their conversation.

Instead of understanding that two of us had determined a failure of reception in this restaurant, Bill inserted a political agenda where none was warranted or needed. On top of that, it was at a table where diversity of political affiliations has been clearly established and at times, drawn a line in the sand, and requested both politely and rudely to keep it off the table.

Instead of thinking “my phone is screwed up right now,” it must be the black man’s phone because he’s on welfare and depends on shitty government phones that probably don’t get good reception.

But phones while varying in quality, are rarely the culprit for poor phone reception. And while there might be a tendency to blame the other person’s phone, I’ve found it to be more productive to check my own first and double check before I say another person has shitty service.

This isn’t some divisive issue. Technology makes no claim. I don’t find a political reason why my phone doesn’t work right. I find a reasoned one based on the limitations of science. But that’s science, which many people on the right declare anti-Republican.

I look back over my relationship with Bill, and he tends to insert politics where there is none. When we toured the Ba’hai temple in Chicago, he looked up and thought the symbol’s on the ceiling were the same symbols than the ones on the Isis flag. I don’t speak or write Arabic. Bill doesn’t speak or write Arabic. But whatever the symbols were, they were definitely the same symbols as the ones we’ve all seen on the Isis flag. He whispered to everyone in our group that the same symbols on the ceiling were terrorist symbols.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and compared the real flag with the symbols, and they clearly were not.

Showing Bill brought a wave of a hand and a sighed humph. Like, you can’t show me proof. I know that’s the same symbols whether you show me the truth or not.

Usually we try to keep so-called politics off the table when we spend time with Bill. But people like Bill devote so much time to what he considers “politics” whether it’s watching, reading, consuming “news”. And when one devotes a gluttonous amount of time to such political information, whether it agrees with one’s views or not, it tends to paint the world in a particular way and one cannot help to derive any number of associations with a situation.

For example, I watch a SHIT TON of movies. Right now, I’m consuming more movies than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve been turned on to a cult-cinematic site called CathodeTV, which is archival website that streams a variety of genres including arthouse, experimental, and d-list movies. There’s also a chat component where you can talk about the movies in real time.

I’ve found myself inserting CathodeTV into every conversation I can fit it in to. I LOVE it. The movies I’m exposed to and the variety of artists and fellow cinemaphiles watching is like taking a masterclass in cinema I never knew existed or didn’t have access to. The people in the chat are all contributing nuggets of trivia and information or submitting other artistic views or links.

I’ve joined the cult. And I own that. When we force a topic into conversations that otherwise do not belong, we should ask ourselves, “What cult have I almost blindly decided needs to be included in conversations that do not otherwise belong there?”

If it’s knitting, bowling, sports, cat petting, own it.

And if it’s politics, own it.

We owe it to each other to admit our weaknesses and strengths. Otherwise we move through life without self-awareness.

There’s also a tendency lately to claim differences in “opinions” are political. If we all look at a situation where no politics are involved, and a person is hiding behind “You won’t change my politics” when clearly there are no politics involved when determining whether technology is at fault, hiding behind politics is not applicable. I would argue it’s offensive to stake a claim in “that’s my politics” as the reason a phone doesn’t work?

Let’s all be better. Let’s all boost the conversation by giving credence where it’s due and leaving politics out when it’s not applicable.

What do you think?


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