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Thursday, June 25, 2020

To Make Myself Clear

I am in process of listening to a podcast by CNN's Don Lemon about racism, doing it slowly so I can take notes and be sure I catch all the points that are made; perhaps I will summarize it here when I get done listening.  For now, though, I just want to say that I think I have made my thoughts and feelings very clear in the last few weeks about where I stand on the burning issues of the day:  police reform and equal justice under law.

Those issues - at the top of a long list of issues - need immediate attention, and are getting it, even as I type, in Congress as well as in many big cities and small towns across the breadth and depth of this country, with impetus from politicians and ordinary citizens alike.  Well and good.  What I call "a revolution of hearts and minds" has made a remarkable beginning and should be sustained at all levels until it is accomplished - by reasonable and lawful means.

I am on board with peaceable assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances, as the Constitution puts it; these are fundamental American rights, and the free exercise thereof has been essential from the very beginnings of this country in our never-ending progress towards "a more perfect union."

What I am NOT on board with are mindless rioting and hell-raising just because young hotheads can get away with it.  A protest and a riot are not the same thing.  Nor am I on board with mob violence and undemocratic destruction of public monuments.  If need be, a statue or monument can be removed to private property; there is no essential need to destroy it.  What is needed is to change people's attitudes, which violence does not do.  It gets people's attention, sure - but not the right kind of attention.

NOR am I on board with the cunning rhetorical trick of calling everything and everyone you don't like an example of "white supremacy" and "systemic racism."  That is painting with far too broad a brush; it is unfair, unjust, and untrue.  (I know - I grew up in the segregated South.  No one under 50 today has any idea of what legal white supremacy looks like.)

It will also not get the victims of police reform and political oppression what they want.  In society, as in physics, for every action there usually is an equal and opposite reaction.  An unreasonable, unjust push in one direction will likely provoke an unreasonable, unjust shove in the the opposite direction.  A punch in the eye invites a return punch on the nose.

It will also lose them the goodwill and support of many innocent bystanders and people of good will.  It is a fundamental rule of human life that if you want to get respect, you have to give respect.  It's not all about you.

And now - as I have privately feared - this orgy of destruction threatens to go far beyond the bounds of any conceivable justification.  There are voices - perhaps only a few, and certainly unreasonable - voices now calling for the destruction of monuments to Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and anyone else who does not meet an absurd 21st-century purity test.

Not even Lincoln - the closest thing we have to a secular saint in the pantheon of presidents - is exempt from condemnation.  Voices are calling for the destruction of his statues.  And for the destruction of Mount Rushmore.

And even for the destruction of all images of "white Jesus."

Okay, obliteration of identity, history, and religion - what does that sound like, folks?  What is the logical next step - a "final solution" to end the threat of "white supremacy" forever?  Huh?  Where is that line of thought going?

This is madness.  This is hateful.  This is would-be tyranny.  This is evil.

This is not America.  Two wrongs do not make a right.

This is the time to settle down and think carefully about how to make our union more just, more equal, more perfect.  For everyone.

It is not the time to strike a match to the powder keg, and destroy the good and the bad in one big blowup.

You have been warned, people.  Don't listen to the crazies on either side.  Don't go there.

Back off.  Please don't go there.  We would all regret it, and we would all suffer.  Horribly.

P.S. - Nobody has anything to fear from me - I'll be hiding under the bed, out of the crossfire.

More mindless violence: Gay state senator beaten, kicked in the head by rioters at Wisconsin statehouse. The Hill reports, "Demonstrators also tore down two statues, including Wisconsin's motto Forward and the likeness of Col. Hans Christian Heg. Heg was a Norwegian migrant and an abolitionist who died for the Union Army during the Civil War. The Forward statue stood outside of the state Capitol and is a symbol of progress and devotion, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society."


Frank said...

First, I'm in agreement with your comments here; I realize that my small voice will not likely be heard by those who are pulling down monuments - on the other hand I would not wish to be misinterpreted as supporting the riot police or the position of our clueless president.

Second, I just listened to the podcast and while I did not take notes and don't have the mental energy to do any sort of analysis of the podcast or of myself, it is food for thought.

I will say that I have been brought up and lived my entire life in a white world. Granted we did not have legal segregation (there were no white/black drinking fountains) but there were de-facto segregated neighborhoods, schools, churches.

The Catholic schools I attended were basically populated by the children and grandchildren of white European Catholic immigrants; I was taught by nuns who were mostly of Irish heritage and other teachers and professors were of ethnic groups similar to those they taught. There were a few black professors at my Catholic college, but not in my area of study.

Even in my early gay days to the present, my friends have been/are of white European descent. In fact I never had Jewish friends until we moved here. The many venues I've moved in - Dignity, CT Coalition for LGBT Rights, the AIDS organizations, gay campgrounds, even Provincetown, etc. - have all been 99% white.

On the other hand, blacks have had their religious, community, cultural and business institutions that are perceived as exclusive to a large extent. e.g. how might a white guy be looked at walking into a "black" barber shop? or a white/hispanic/asian family attending a black church?

I just pose more questions: Is there a distinction to be made between what is cultural segregation and what is racist? Can blacks also be racists? How do racism, prejudice, and discrimination interact?

Here in New Mexico, New Mexicans of Spanish descent are as proud of their heritage as any ethnic group despite the fact of their ancestors' historical violence and brutality against the indigenous peoples of the region. The monuments to their historical Spanish ancestors are being torn down or removed here in deference to the Pueblo Indians and other native peoples as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But even as the indigenous Pueblo people express their centuries-old anger toward the Spanish, and demand the removal of monuments to Spanish conquistadores they continue to embrace (Spanish) Catholicism name their pueblos for the Catholic Saints whose adobe churches grace pueblo plazas; build with adobe, bake bread in hornos, etc.

My point being another question: How do we preserve history - the good, the bad and the ugly - and acknowledge that, whether we like it or not, it can neither be changed, nor can its influence be extracted from our present existential reality.

How will tearing down a statue of Columbus fix the atrocities he committed? Can we excuse, or forgive, or permit or acknowledge to some degree, the evils of past actors in light of their inability to perceive the world back then as we very enlightened folk perceive it today? Was their behavior in spite of their moral compass pointing the same way as ours?

Can we memorialize a historical figure in proper context? And who decides what the context will be?

I think the collective "we" have only just begun a conversation and I’m not optimistic about our coming to consensus any time soon despite the call to anti-racism.

Russ Manley said...

Wow, Frank, you sure know how to raise some good questions. M.P. is putting the finishing touches on our dinner here, and I don't have time to even begin a comprehensive answer - and I don't even know the answers to all of the points you raise. It will indeed take a national conversation to cover all that ground.

So I will just say briefly here - in case my "let me be clear" post was not clear enough - that the important thing, the central thing in all that is being said and done right now, is that we Americans learn from the past and from each other, in order to grow into one united society - at peace with one another and with the world in general.

To focus on school names, state flags, statues, etc., is to be sidetracked from the real problem now before us: police brutality and real live, locked and loaded racism. Flogging the dead horse of the Confederacy is really entirely beside the point – a useless distraction.

Whups, dinner’s ready and I have to go. Keep asking those questions, Frank. And the rest of us need to keep working on the answers.

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