Friday, June 26, 2015

Historical Revisionism, Racism, Colorblindness and Changing Our Mentality

In the wake of this, the most recent story of unimaginable violence, there has been much argument in this country about how we should ensure that tragedies like this don't happen again. The usual people have drug out the usual soapboxes and made the usual arguments, as usually happens.

Within mere moments, the finger pointing began, the vehement defenses of gun rights began, the claims by far too many people that the events that took place in South Carolina had nothing to do with them.

Except that what happened in South Carolina 
has everything to do with all of us. 

Pretending it doesn't is a huge part of what contributed to it happening in the first place, a huge part of why the post racial world that some people insist we live in doesn't actually exist, a huge part of why black churches were burned in the South in the past few days.

You probably haven't heard about the churches yet. You might never hear about them.

And that's absolutely part of the problem, and it absolutely has to do with every single one of us.

This isn't a South Carolina problem. 

This isn't a Southern problem.

This isn't a black problem.

This is an American problem.

Let's just call it what it is. Let's stop with the half assed apologetic but my family wasn't here then bullshit. It's racism and it has infiltrated almost every piece of our society.

For far too may people, just the mere mention of that word makes their hackles raise up in defiance, hardens them and isolates them from the truth that other people have a far different experience with this society than they might.

None of us, not a single one of us knows what another person deals with in this life, of this I am certain. Our experiences, our lives, our interactions cannot be extended to others. They can't be imparted to people in the same place in life we are, in the same gender, at the same age, at the same income, in the same neighborhood, in the same race. Why then do we believe for even one second that they can be imparted to people with different races, different genders, different background, different incomes, different neighborhoods?

Simply put, we shouldn't.

I've never once tried to claim that I know what it is like to be black in this country. What I have done for as long as I can remember, though, is asked others what it is like, tried to understand their experiences, listened when they've spoken and believed what they have told me.

Imagine the world if we just believed what other people told us, if we didn't try to inject our experiences into theirs, if we didn't insist that they must be wrong because we've seen and heard and lived differently.

Imagine if we just asked others 
and if we just listened 
and if we just believed.

There have been many who've tried to argue that the horrible crimes perpetrated in that church one evening not long ago were committed at the hands of a crazy man, a rogue delusional young man, unaffiliated with any organized hatred.

It would certainly be easier to believe that, to labor under the belief that he was radicalized in a vacuum, that his actions had nothing to do with other groups or people or beliefs or teachings.

It's just not the truth.

He didn't just spontaneously arise from the earth and want to kill black people.

There is an undercurrent of racism in this nation, there always has been. Pretending that it didn't happen, pretending that this nation wasn't built upon the shoulders of stolen humanity, pretending that we are all equal now just because we wish we were won't make it so.

We have to call it what it is. We have to drag it out into the light. We have to own the ugliness of our past, of our collective past, without regard to whether we personally have any connection to what happened back then for the simple fact that we live in this world now where it affects us now.

It affects us now.

And it affects us now in part because too many people pretend it doesn't.

They use words like "colorblind", insist that they don't see race, insist that they have no inherent biases of their own, claim that everyone is the same.

(p.s. a lot of those people forget that we can see what they like, what they share, what they comment on in social media and we know that they're lying, by the way)

Colorblindness doesn't exist. We all see color. We all see differences. We all have biases. We are human and part of being human means appreciating the variation among people.

I received a painfully obvious reminder of all this here in my town this week. I visited a local used book store in search of a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. My intention was to have my older children read it, to see the observations made by this man about race and inequality all those years ago, to read his sage advice, wisdom and warnings about what the future would hold if that inequality was permitted to persist.

My children aren't reading the book I found and bought, and they aren't reading it because the version I bought is a heavily abridged version, one that removes every single reference to race.

The chapter listing in the book I bought.
Even the title of the chapter is renamed.
This version has just erased it all as though those observations weren't valid when they were made and written about, as though they aren't important pieces of this tome to be read now. This version of the book is put out, intentionally, without this frank and honest discussion of race.

The full chapter listing of the translated text.

It made me sick to my stomach when I realized it.

I found the full translation online and have been having my children read it that way. I showed them the abridged copy, though, and I warned them about the people in this society and in this world who would opt to revise books such as this one. Who would just take whole pieces of history out, who would eliminate the stories that need to be told.

It isn't just this book.

And It doesn't just happen here.

There is systemic bias, there are habitual rewritings of the history of this nation, romanticized versions of the struggle in the Civil War that have been passed off as truth for decades or more.

Only a part of a history has been told, only one version of it ever shown, and that small version has been spun to suit the needs of those who benefit most from rewriting the stories of the past.

That romanticizing has escalated significantly in the past week, in large part because of the outrage over the Confederate flag. Make no mistake about it, the Confederate flag is the banner of a war waged over slavery. It represents the ugliest time in our collective history, a reminder of the days when one man owned another.

It is time for that flag to come down. Long past time.

It needs to come down because it isn't just a flag.

It is a weapon.

It is a weapon of hatred just as the heavily edited book is.

This is so much bigger than the flag. The flag is just a symbol of the hatred that we cannot permit to persist in this society. We have to uncover the hatred itself in order to do that.

We cannot ever work towards a society where all people are truly equal if we keep kidding ourselves about the fact that we don't already live in one. We need to admit that we live in a world where racism invades our police forces, our justice systems, our prisons, our schools, even our swimming pools. We need to say it out loud instead of pretending it isn't there.

We need to recognize that killers like the one who took the lives of nine churchgoers last week don't arise out of a spontaneous vacuum. They are bred to hate, they are made to become paranoid, then they are armed.

This sickness is not confined to rogue individuals, it is learned.

Children are not born knowing how to hate. They are taught how to hate.

We've spent billions of dollars fighting terrorism from any source but ourselves, and we've done it knowing this whole time that white armed conservative extremists are the greatest danger, not anyone else.

We need to stop believing that our greatest threats lay outside our borders and understand that we're creating much worse threats here, emboldening them by this bizarre insistence that it's mental illness or medication or something else instead of facing what it really is.

As a nation, we need to take a good long hard look in the mirror. We need to get ugly with it, strip it down and confront some very uncomfortable truths. We need to take down the banners of men who fought a war over the right to own humans. We need to stop profiling in law enforcement and ensure fairness in the eyes of the legal system. We need to deal with the reality that schools are more segregated now than they have ever been. We need to.

Talking won't get us anywhere. We need to do something about it.

While writing this post, I've been listening to the eulogy delivered at the service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney this morning by President Obama. I urge you all to listen to his words. Close your eyes and listen. And I urge you to believe him.

We must do better. We can do better. But first, we must embrace the entirety of this, we must stand side by side, we must stop qualifying our own personal histories and we must confront the truth that this is an American problem.

None of us were here when the problems of the past were created, but we're here now in this present where problems persist and we can absolutely be part of the solution.

First, though, we've got to stop talking and we've got to start listening.

Peace and love.

1 comment:

  1. I love the passion and tact with which you wrote this piece. I hear you. I hear the disgust and the anger and the being done with rewritten history and ignorance of race and racism.

    You're right though. Listening is part of the bigger key. Listening is how we actually connect to one another on basic levels. It's how we find solutions to probelms, by listening.

    Even my experience as a light skinned colored woman is different from friends of mine who have darker complexions or even of those with similar complexions but different hair. I learn from all of them as well, but only when I listen. :)


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