On Racism

I have been thinking, for the past few days, about racism.

“Racism” is being launched into the airwaves fairly often nowadays.  While conventional left and middle wisdom do not blame racism solely for the. . .vociferousness of protests against health care  reform and President Obama, the pundits certainly do seem to believe that racism is a significant factor in the protests.

And they’re right.

You hear President Obama being called a fascist, a socialist, a Marxist, a Kenyan, a communist, and more by people who, when confronted, seem hard-pressed to define any of the labels that they’re throwing at him (except Kenyan, and honestly, I doubt that many of them could even find Kenya’s general location on a map or, as much as they claim to love and want to preserve the Constitution, seem to remember that as long Obama’s mother was an American citizen, he is an American citizen, no matter where he was born).  The man can’t even continue the tradition of giving a Presidential address to schoolchildren without right-wing parents getting up in arms about it, for fuck’s sake!  (For the record, I am proud to say that my daughter’s school didn’t send anything home or call any parents about the speech and showed it at the scheduled time without fanfare or fallout.)  If you take a good, hard look at the people protesting, and the ludicrous claims and scare tactics coming from a very vocal minority of this country, I promise that you too will be left with the strong impression is that what these people are really angry about is the black man in the White House.

Racism.  There’s that word again.

Racism, I believe, has a basis in primal human nature.  It is natural to fear what is different from one’s self, from one’s own experience.  It is also a natural human reaction to be fearful of change.  The loss of what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is known, can be a very frightening thing, and that is a natural reaction, to be afraid of the unknown.  However, fear of difference and fear of the unknown can and often do turn into dislike, disdain, prejudice, hatred. . .racism.  What we’re seeing in these protests is the result of fear not only left unchecked, but, in many cases, fed and nurtured and used by leaders, elected or otherwise, on the political right until it either mutated into racism or merged with already-held prejudices and became an even bigger monster (but not a monster dumb enough to forget to cloak its true nature by tossing out a “social-Marxist-fascist” smokescreen).

And the left shares the blame.

Yeah, I said it.  The political left is partly to blame for these protests.

How so?  By trying to enact reform beneficial to all Americans?  By winning new congressional majorities in the last two elections? By daring to put a black man in the White House?

No.

By demonizing people who were just afraid.

Remember what I said about it being an intrinsic part of primal human nature to fear change, to fear the unknown, to fear what is different from oneself?  It is.  And instead of talking to these people and trying to understand why they were afraid and calm their fears, the left instead labeled them “racists” and “rednecks”  and “ignorant” and ostracized them, shunned them, tried to make them ashamed of merely being human, being afraid. . .and drove them right into the open arms of the people on the right that were willing to use them for ratings, for money, for political power.  A lot of these people were just scared of a strange face, a face unlike their own, and when they turned on their TV to look for answers, they saw, instead of reports emphasizing the commonalities of all people and how the President is just a man like any other, they saw emphasis of difference and division: the first black President, the relevance of the black vote, the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the white vote, and the people who looked like them, who were largely white and older, being labeled as “racists” and “opponents” of change.  I’m not saying that some of those labels weren’t correctly applied; far from it.  I’m saying that the labels got overused and, in their overuse, succeeded more in alienating a section of the population than in actually hurting their intended targets. . .leading to those feeling alienated and disenfranchised right now, holding up signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache and parroting the words of the people who gave them ways to channel their fear into a cause instead of making them feel ashamed for being afraid.

For being human.

Don’t get me wrong;  I’m not defending racism at all.  I’m saying that the left blew a chance to win over many of the hearts and minds that they drove to the side of the extreme right-wing demagogues.

It’s not too late to correct the mistake.  It takes understanding, compassion, and most of all, calm, reasonable, logical debate.  Understand that these are not necessarily bad people on the other side of the debate.  Have the compassion to listen, and in debate, give them the knowledge, of human commonalities, that can defeat a fear of the unknown, of another people.  Remind them, hell, show them that most African-Americans are not gangsta rappers, most Asians are not martial arts experts, most Muslims are not terrorists, and most Latinos don’t even know who Carlos Mencia is.  Knowledge is really the only way to defeat the media-promulgated stereotypes and show everybody (because there are minority racists, too) that we are, as our President said, far more alike than we are different.

Not doing this, not fighting back with knowledge, will only lead to more of the same thing thing you’ve seen this summer: more loud voices covering fear with nationalism or patriotism, more walls of anger with fear hiding behind them, until finally people stop yelling and start acting. When that happens, then, if nothing else, we’ll know for sure one commonality:  everybody’s blood is red.

VS – 09.17.09

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