The politics of hate

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 8, 2015, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Being born in the early 70's means coming in to the world toward the end of the American civil rights movement. I was unknowingly a part of a historic transition in that movement, when desegregation was imposed on the Cleveland schools as a result of a lawsuit. Locally, it was simply known as "busing," which moved kids around the racially split city. Starting in second grade, I went to school 15 miles away.

The benefit of this was also unknown to me at the time. At that age, impressionable as you may be, you don't think, "Gosh, I'm going to school with kids who have a different skin color." I don't recall really thinking anything. Kids are kids. I have an amusing story about how my first kiss was almost with a non-white girl, and it might have happened were it not for poor timing on the part of a meddlesome teacher. Indeed, I didn't really "see" color until I moved to the suburbs and there wasn't any.

Irrationally disliking groups of people based on race, religion, gender and ethnicity is certainly learned behavior, and that's why I refer to my experience as fortunate. It shaped my beliefs the "right" way. But I also hope that, as a rational, thinking human being, that adulthood would have eventually showed me the way. In my line of work, you wouldn't get very far being a bigot, because it's very diverse.

I think it has been easy for me over the years to believe that issues around racism, sexism, xenophobia and the like have gotten dramatically better, because in my sphere of existence, that has largely been the case. Maybe it has in some ways, but I think the last year or two has really shown that things do still suck. "-Isms" were something that simply didn't come up in polite conversation, and they were relegated to people who found their echo chambers in the privacy of their own homes. Now it's audible on the Internet. It's audible in response to unarmed black kids being shot, and people hanging on to symbolic racism, and most recently, willful ignorance about religion. After seeing same-sex marriage become legal, in what amounts to light speed when it comes to the American judicial process, I find myself being confused about how all of this hate could be a thing at all. And yet, here we are.

Today the conversation is about Muslims, just because radical fundamentalists have committed acts of terrorism in the last few years. Terrorism tends to evoke a very emotional response, which is largely the point, and you can't seem to argue with people that a tiny minority of violent people doesn't represent one-fifth of the world's population. Willful ignorance is the way to go for some people, apparently. (You'll never change their minds, but you can blow them when you tell them that Jesus does in fact appear in the Quran as a prophet, born to Mary and performing miracles, no less. The text differs in his role and relationship with God, but it still has strikingly similar accounts to the Christian Bible.. It's fascinating to read about the overlap between the Abrahamic religions as a matter of anthropology.)

Today was an interesting day, because I think the capacity for Americans to tolerate the hate and stupidity seems to be going down. You can thank Donald Trump's side show of racism, and now fascism, for that. The idea that you should start rejecting people based on their religion is of course a strikingly dangerous idea, and history has over time shamed the human race for the violence it is capable of. Right here in the US, in our short history, we have the denial of civil rights for two centuries (a problem that is still far from solved), the fear mongering caused by McCarthyism, Japanese internment, codified segregation, slavery... we've made a lot of the same mistakes over and over again. Hitler's version of Germany was the most destructive of all.

White American Christian victimhood has become a thing, but it also seems to be a minority of people. They're a very loud minority, because they're very scared (of everything, apparently). I don't think you can change these people. I do think it's time for Americans to stand up and embrace who we are supposed to be: A nation of diverse people working to make a better nation, and a better world. You can call that naive optimism, but I'd much rather live my life that way than living in constant fear.


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