Why don't you get it?

roger-ailes-320.jpgIf they can get past Rupert Murdoch's lovely parting gift of $40 million, a lot of people will revel in the denouement of Roger Ailes' Fox News career. But just because the hens at Fox might be safer from some predators, it's a limited victory. Sexual harassment remains a seemingly intractable problem in the U.S. workplace because a lot of fully civilized people don't know what it is.

I was discussing Ailes' presumably forced resignation on Thursday with one of my best friends, a man who makes a living in a high-profile profession populated by arrogant blowhards not unlike some of the people Ailes inflicted on American TV audiences. My friend is like none of them; he's wise, patient and fair. He's slow to anger. He listens. He's deeply wounded over stories about people hurting children and animals. A onetime Republican who wasn't very good at it, he's always been a conscientious citizen who prefers to solve problems than exploit them for attention. He's the person I most want to talk to when I'm troubled about injustice.

Until I told him, he hadn't heard that Fox had dumped Ailes after investigating harassment allegations by Gretchen Carlson and apparently finding that she wasn't singing solo. Alluding to the generally blond, youthful good looks of the women he supposedly harassed, my friend commented, "Why would he ever think women like that would be attracted to him?"

I was stunned. How could someone so smart be so ignorant? Was his disconnect just a momentary departure from humanity? Could someone I know so well be a misogynist?

Nah. Some white people just don't get that virtually all black people, at some time in their lives, have been treated differently just because they aren't white and, more important, that even if that unfairness was unconscious, it's still racist. Reflexive treatment based on someone's immutable traits is insidious, and it won't stop until empathy is a default response to human pain.

How does my compassionate friend not get that what Roger Ailes probably did, what so many men routinely do, is not romance? How do they not get that it's bullying, it's terrorism that isn't political, but personal? How can my friend, a generous donor to charity, a champion of disabled people, a guy steeped in family values, not grasp that sexual harassment is not about seduction, but about the abuse of power?

He's like a lot us. We are decent people invested in the social contract of human equality but who unwittingly till the soil where the "isms" that rend society thrive.

You don't have to be a person of color to understand the cost of racism. You don't have to be female to know the difference between being wooed and being threatened.

But it's not enough to conclude, like Edmund Burke, that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Because if you don't recognize evil, you do nothing to stop it.


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