In light of recent events, I find myself overwhelmed, mentally. I try to piece together what I read in the news each morning, or whenever I follow links off Facebook or Twitter. I try to understand what’s happening. I try to make sense of it all, when it seems as though all hell has broken loose.
That’s what this piece is intended to be. Me searching for the answers to “why did this happen?” and “how do we fix this?” Me trying to put this into context, in the larger part of the American narrative. Me trying to refine my perspective- what I believe about the world, and what I believe to be true. I don’t have all of the facts- please don’t try to cite me as any kind of authority. There are far more educated people all over the world who could tell you way more about what’s happening. That being said, I realize that almost no one will like what I’m saying here.
Over the last month, America has been destroyed by a shocking number of shootings. Pulse Nightclub. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. The dead and wounded from Dallas. People are screaming about #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter and gun control and police protection and the justice system. And none of it is helping. NONE OF IT.
Before I go any further, I do want to give my condolences to those who lost someone to one of these tragedies. It’s a terrible thing to lose a loved one so traumatically, and I realize nothing I can say or do can give you what you’ve been denied. I pray for you, that you will have strength and find peace in these trying times.I do not want to minimize you loss, your suffering, your pain, but I do beg you to have a little grace for me.
As a nation, America has had a long, brutal and bloody history of racism. Implicit and explicit. And while we frown on the explicit displays, publicly anyhow, we practice and condone the implicit. Little attitudes that strip others out of humanity. THIS HAS TO STOP. IT HAS TO STOP NOW.
It is that implicit racism that fuels Trump’s plan to build a highly impractical wall. To halt immigration. It is that implicit racism which longs for, but will never confess to, a white America.
But let’s go back one step further. What drives racism? If I had to give an answer, I’d say fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of that which is different. Fear of losing control. I’ve wrestled with that fear in other ways- in relationships and new situations. But I also know that what’s different isn’t necessarily bad- it can be quite wonderful, in fact.
In my study of American history, it seems as though every racial encounter on American soil has been treated with fear. Changes have been argued out of fear. We struggle to maintain the system, because we can’t imagine a different social order.
We’re all too familiar with these stories of fear, so much so that we don’t stop to think about them. We know the tale of the Indian taking white scalps, the fear that faced settlers and pioneers, out to claim land for themselves. But we don’t speak of the fear felt the other way- fear that everything would change, that you could lose your homelands, your life, your family, your culture. And they did lose everything.
We know the tales of the black man, raping those poor Southern belles, because they couldn’t restrain themselves at the beauty of a white woman. Not only is this incredibly arrogant, but demeaning. But we don’t tell how that man got to be where he was. We don’t tell of the dread of the slave ships, the horrifying conditions they were forced to live in. We sanitize slavery to make it PG, to teach in schools, when it was anything but.
We may admit that this hypothetical man was conceived out of rape- the WHITE plantation master having his way with a slave woman who couldn’t refuse. But we don’t talk about the fear she’d lived in her whole life.
We know of more recent horrors, of the violence of Montgomery, of being dragged off buses and out of restaurants and being beaten to a pulp, of the fear they lived under when the KKK was at its peak. But we, as whites, don’t know the fear of being profiled. We don’t feel fear that we’ll be roughed up by a cop (because for us, cops mean safety), we don’t feel the fear of being different, because the consequences are too steep.
But that’s not to say that we don’t feel fear too. We’re afraid of losing our power. We feel like some of it’s already slipped away, as jobs leave the continent and the economy toddles back to its feet. As financial aid funding is directed to minorities. As marriage is redefined politically. As our civil religion is set aside, and we see other religions enter the nation. We fear, what is so simply put in several schools of literary criticism, “the Other.”
“The Other” is not how we see America. We never have- there have been repeated bouts of nationalism that reveal this (I recommend Kristin L. Hoganson’s Consumers’ Imperium or Manliness and Civilization by Gail Bederman.) But here is where the disparity between our language and our behaviors is evident. We demand closed borders, we demand the removal of terrorism- by which I infer targeting people of differing ethnicities and those who practice Islam. We act as though we’re protecting Black and Hispanic America from themselves, when all we’re really doing is creating terror.
It seems to me, when warned that an “other” is armed, cops pull triggers out of fear. Fear for their lives may be reasonable, in some places. But sometimes, I think there’s a deeper fear. It’s this fear we need to address as a society. To not address it is like telling the rape victim to dress less promiscuously, even if she was dressed modestly. It’s not dealing with the poor behavior on the part of the rapist, which is essentially what White America has become.
We have asked a monumental amount out of Black and Hispanic and Native and Asian America. We have asked them to believe we do them no harm, when we have NEVER given them evidence to prove that. It’s time we stop expecting them to change for us, and we lay the foundations for a safe place, where EVERYONE, regardless of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender, etc.
As Americans, we have certain freedoms, and they were summarized beautifully by FDR. However, as we move forward, we need to add a fifth freedom to that list of four. We have, in theory, the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. We still need to claim the freedom to be. Freedom to be who we were made to be. Freedom to live our lives as is fitting. This is true freedom.
I don’t know that I have an answer for how to do this, but I suspect it won’t lie in screaming at each other on social media, or patronizingly reasoning with me or “the other”, or placing blame on a person or organization. I believe it begins when we, White America, face the music. Make the reforms necessary to make integrated America fair (we’ve have 50 years to get it right, it’s time we make progress).
Fear can be defeated, and it begins with knowing the other side. It begins with educating oneself on what it’s like to live as a person of color, as a minority, to believe a different religion. There have been those over time who are curious, and who want to know the answers. Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin is a good example of this. We need to integrate these voices- the beautiful symphony of American people, black, white, native, Asian, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, disabled, well-bodied (and minded), male, female and trans- into our curriculum in the schools.
It is only when we abolish fear of “the other” that TRUE justice can be done. It is only when we abolish fear of “the other” that America can claim in all honesty that we are a “melting pot,” a safe haven for the refugee, a nation where anyone can come and be free. But this requires truly positive actions- beginning with listening and leading to reforms- that must be enacted in spite of the fear.
We need to stop pointing fingers, and starting lending hands. This is how we will make America truly great. This is how we can make America the land of the free. Neither of our political parties hold the answer, but both know how to feed to fear to inspire favorable action.
We need immediate action. We need to stop this dead, before someone else is killed, or injured. We need to stop the fear, and claim the freedom to be.