I recognize that black people don't own oppression but we certainly know a hell of a lot about it first hand. I first understood what it meant to be black in this country the summer when I was 8. That was the big knee cutting incident when rubbing alcohol came in glass bottles. I tripped over my own feet while carrying a bottle to my mother, knelt down to pick up the pieces and sliced open my left knee. My mother scooped me up, grabbed my younger brother and sister and raced to the local clinic where she attempted to enter the emergency entrance, the white only entrance. As she tried to enter with me in her arms, a blood soaked towel wrapped around my knee, someone told her that she needed to go to the nigger entrance. She did.
What I learned from that experience was patience. No amount of language, foul or otherwise, no amount of defiant attitude impacts people who are driven by ignorance, hate, and downright stupidity. When Dr. King came along, he understood this. He preached nonviolence not because he was afraid but because he recognized that the real crazies were unreasonable and unreachable, but that the rest of American whites might still have enough of a conscience to feel guilt. Those peaceful marches weren't really peaceful except on the part of the protesters. They were beaten, attacked by dogs, fired upon with high pressure water hoses, murdered on dark highways and they met this violence with nonviolence. The other big factor was television. Images of people being subjected to violence were shown around the world and sympathy was with the nonviolent protesters.
Always image conscious, White America didn't suddenly acknowledge that all people are created equal but a significant number of them sought to disassociate themselves from the overtly racist extremists. Racism wasn't dead, but laws were passed that made its overt practice illegal. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.--MLK, The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.
I tend to think in analogical connections and our current battle against the unfettered conservatism that threatens to devour our country reminds me of the battle that was fought against that other voracious monster known as institutionalized racism . The feelings of powerlessness, frustration, and fear expressed by my fellow liberals are understandable and no Pollyanna pep talk is going to change those feelings. I don't believe that people are naturally good at heart, but from what I've seen in my lifetime, I do believe that change can happen. Forty-five years ago, I couldn't drink from a public water fountain unless it had a sign above it that read, "For Coloreds Only." The world of my childhood and today's world are as different as night and day.
We are far from a post-racial society. I'm a big science fiction fan and I think of racism as being a creature like that of the Alien movies, incubating in the chests of some people until it breaks forth screaming, spreading destruction everywhere. In the movies, Sigourney Weaver kicks its alien ass. Alas, Sigourney isn't available except on the silver screen, so we have to do our own ass kicking when it comes to racism and the disease known as the Tea Party.
To do this, we have to be better strategists than they are. Like Dr. King, we have to determine how best to overcome. Venting our frustration may be necessary on occasion, but anger and frustration do not generate solutions. Our strength is our ability to act rationally in the face of irrationality. I don't find the use of vulgarity offensive, just useless. Anger is exactly what these people best understand. King and Ghandi understood this. Meet irrational hate with anger and you feed the fire of their hate; meet irrationality with reason and persistence and your enemy is confused and does not know what to make of your response. For that reason, we must keep our wits about us because our strength lies in our rationality, in our ability to reason and though the path be rocky, we must continue to traverse it, one step at a time.