Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Whose Keeper Am I?

The current brouhaha over Barack Obama's allegedly elitist comments has been on my mind these past couple of weeks, but I haven't been in a mood to write about the serious issues of the day and have pretended not to notice them. However, I've decided to pull my head out of the sand and look the tiger straight in the eye. In case you aren't clear as to what Obama actually said at a San Francisco fundraiser, here are his remarks, offered in explanation of the difficulties that he faced in reaching people in small town America:

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothings replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Personally, I think the Senator hit the nail on the head. People who are in pain, who are bitter and angry, look for someone to blame. Scratch the surface of any bigot, whether that bigotry is based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious belief, or language, and you will find a bitter person who is convinced that his or her own lot in life would be better if not for all the ____________ (fill in the blank).

Small town America as the home of June Cleaver is a myth, carefully constructed and nurtured by what we want to believe rather than what is. This country is crisscrossed with insular communities that cling to their beliefs to the exclusion of allowing for any differences of opinion. Every time you find yourself lumping any people into a group and ascribing some negative behavior to that group, you're indulging in prejudice. When you get all bent out of shape because the sales person speaks with an accent, you're letting your prejudice out. When you profess to love the sinner but not the sin, and therefore feel that you have the right to determine whom another person may love, you're succumbing to prejudice. When you believe that the goal of Islam is to destroy America, you're expressing a prejudiced belief. Every time that you blame the misery and problems in your own life on some other group of people, you're indulging in prejudice.

Senator Obama didn't say it this strongly, but I do, because as long as we live with delusions that we are somehow above bitterness, above indulging in prejudice, then we will do nothing to change things. We will lull ourselves into a false sense of higher morality, convinced that we are not a part of the problem because we are not prejudiced, not bigoted, not biased; we treat everyone fairly and respect everyone equally.

Soul searching is something that each of us must do as individuals. I suggest a simple test, at the next gathering that you attend, whether it be a party, or church on Sunday morning, or just an evening of cards, look around the room and count how much diversity there is in the group--race, ethnicity, English as a second language, gay, Jewish, Islamic, poor, homeless, on public assistance etc. Ask yourself how many people you know, not just know of or speak to in passing, who are different from you? Ask yourself who do you blame for societal ills, how do you feel about our prison system, the death penalty, mandatory drug sentencing? Take a good self-inventory, and for goodness sake, don't leave me comments telling me about your self-inventory. It's not about me or anyone else, it's about each of us, taking stock of ourselves, and asking the ultimate question, have I been my brother's, my sister's, keeper?