Tuesday, September 6, 2011

We Shall Overcome

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.


John Myste said...

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.

And it's not just your enemy who is watching. It is everyone. If irrationality and anger are consistently met with calm reason and tolerance of the anger, soon people watching learn who is the sane one, and who is the crazy one.

The madman's insanity can easily be camouflaged by our own angry reaction, but if we remain intellectual and almost stoical when faced with his insanity, it exaggerates his craziness and makes it even more absurd.

John Myste said...

Oh, and this is a slight tangent, but the Republican Party in no way represents the majority of those who continue to elect them.

Why do people vote for candidates who only vote down laws that would help them? The only reason is that they don't know how the candidates vote. We need to educate voters. If we did this, there would be no Republican Party.

Lisa :-] said...

Where modern liberals/progressives fail is in thinking that in order to defeat the conservative agenda, we need to adopt their methods. We cannot out-yell, out-hate or out-ignorant them; they have a lock on all those tactics (and they are welcome to them.) You are right: we need to take a closer look at the methods of King and Gandhi, embrace patience and appeal to the rationality and conscience that of the "silent" majority.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Wow, I would not have thought that someone as young as you are would have been subjected to such a level of racism. Maybe it is the region. I know from visiting my daughter, who lives in South Carolina now, that there still are distinctions made among races that just are relics of the past where I live. I hope NC will join the more reasonable states soon.

Nance said...

An Examined Lives classic, beautifully reasoned and beautifully written.

With you, I've been pondering how to impress on my embittered acquaintances the necessity, the imperative, of perseverence against "the disease known as the Tea Party." In their anger, my thwarted friends threaten to quit, give up, "refudiate."

I read recently (and I wish I could find it again!) that the left believes that conservatives have ruled virtually unimpeded for a half century; the right looks back that far and sees the triumph of a liberal agenda (civil rights for ethnic minorities, gay rights, abortion rights, women's rights, worker's rights) which they attribute to the actions of government.

We forget both how far we've come and how determined are those who would turn the civil rights clock back.

I will quote from this post time and again.

Big Mark 243 said...

Our Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them -Einstein

But at the same time we cannot be afraid to voice our ideas... that was the thing about MLK, Gahndi, and others who made you hear their spirit if not their words... currently, who projects the spirit, the will of the Liberals..? I don't think that President Obama embodies the spirit of his own beliefs, if he has any that would support the wave of populism that swept him into the presidency...

Ashleigh Burroughs said...

You are so right, Sheria. The images are so much more potent than the yelling.

Anonymous said...

"No amount of language, foul or otherwise, no amount of defiant attitude impacts people who are driven by ignorance, hate, and downright stupidity."

Best quote of the day, maybe the of the month. Excellent post.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

I can always count on your posts to be thought-provoking and well-written, but this piece is truly priceless. Thank you for writing it. Thank you for being my friend.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Well said as always, and your ending paragraph applies to many areas of our lives.