DINGDINGDINGDING we have a microaggression!
Almost 100% of this retelling is straight-up fiction. Kenny did not scream, "F-ck you," he did not give Lee the finger (he did say, "Read between the lines,"), and Lee was not silent in this interaction (in fact, he agitated Kenny from the beginning by gruffly saying, "GET TO IT," as Kenny was gathering his thoughts).
Here's where we really need to pay attention, though.
Lee paints himself as a victim here. "I just didn't talk at all." "I love the guy, but that confused me." "There was a side of him that was very aggressive toward me."
Everyone's major problem with Lee's sliminess should be that he's straight up lying, but if we dig down deeper, Lee is using a hundreds-of-years-old trope to cast himself as the victim of aggressive African American behavior. We can CLEARLY SEE that what he's saying did not take place, and yet, in his telling, Kenny "screamed at him" for no reason as he silently sat there and took it.
You may be thinking, "Mary Catherine, you're reading WAY too much into this -- this is a reality show. Chill."
But hear me out.
Lee is doing something called gaslighting, which essentially means that you give someone lots of reasons to form an opinion about you, then, when they actually form that opinion, you treat them like they're nuts. They get more and more upset, and you play it cooler and cooler, essentially watching your victim, who you totally manipulated, self-destruct from frustration over your duplicitous behavior. It's a terrible tactic always, but it's even worse when the person striking the match is White, and the person being manipulated is Black.
Imagine living in a world where the stereotype "Angry Black Man," and "Angry Black Woman," exists. Would you feel a little more pressure to keep your reactions between the lines? Would you feel that you couldn't freely respond to things without people around you thinking, "Here we go. Here comes the Mad Black Woman." I certainly would.
So for Lee, who we already know has some racial biases and is prone to generalization, to start using the word "aggressive" about a Black man's response to his shady behavior, is not just cringe-worthy, it's actually problematic. And as White folks, we can't sit idly by and let another example of Black people being portrayed unfairly slide.
Now look: it may well be true that if Lee had had this same interaction with a White person, he'd have described it in the same way to Rachel. My bets are that it would be pretty close, because I don't think Lee is a person of strong moral substance. But y'all - the difference is that White people in this country aren't stereotyped as being "aggressive." So if he did use that word, it wouldn't be a problem. But for him to describe a Black man that way? Problem.
Quick story (may have told this before, so stay with me):
When I was in Teach For America, I went to a conference where we listened to several high school senior girls, all of whom were Black, talk about their plans for the future. There was a Q&A at the end of the seminar, and I stood up.
"First, I just want to say that y'all are my heroes. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do or be when I was 18, so the fact that you guys have 5-year plans is so impressive. You are beautifully articulate in the way you describe what you want for yourselves, and it's a quality that most adults don't even have."
If you're a person of color reading that, you already see the problem.
Using the word "articulate" to describe a person of color (specifically a Black person) is a no-no. It assumes that we expect Black people not to be well-spoken, to be less capable of expressing themselves, to be "ghetto." I had no idea at the time, and so I was floored when several of my African American colleagues told me that I'd offended them. At first, I was really indignant, because that's not how I meant it at all.
But sometimes, it's about the impact of our words rather than the intention behind them. I didn't intend to be offensive, but I had been. And now I know better. It costs me nothing not to use that word when describing my former students, even if I mean it sincerely that they ARE articulate and well-spoken. There's no reason to even go there, because I am inadvertently offending my friends and contributing to a stereotype that I don't want to feed.
The impact of Lee's words is greater than whether or not he meant for it to be racially offensive. And though I don't know him and can't judge him, it doesn't appear to me that the intention was that great, either.
Lots of people are up in arms about ABC's decision to cast Lee, whose Twitter feed is a minefield of racist and xenophobic material. And lots of people are upset that the show is using this storyline, steeped in racial undertones, as a plot line for this season.
My own personal hope is that the contestants, especially White contestants (thank you DEAN!!), will start sniffing out Lee's racist behavior on the show, and that we as a country get to watch while that happens. I think this could be a really important moment, and I hope that the White viewers can learn something about how the subtleties of our actions and words sometimes have implications we're unaware of.
And if we needed another reason for Lee to go home, anybody who gives Queen Rachel this busted ass wood carving has got. To. GO.