Joan Chittister writes in her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, that Western civilization, “and the United States in particular, has developed to the point where pain is unacceptable.” Because of that, our country is unwilling to struggle with the things which are always with us. Racism is one of those things. It sits in the middle of everything we do, like a grinning Cheshire cat, knowing that it does not have to worry about being confronted honestly. Many will say that even the mention of racism is foolhardy, that it is gone and has been for a long time. Those who pull “the race card” are immediately ostracized and criticized.
And yet, the Cheshire cat stays amongst us. In this last presidential campaign, the cat walked quietly yet persistently into campaign rhetoric, shaping words that belied the rancid presence of racism. Bill O’Reilly, after President Obama, said “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore,” he said. “The white establishment is the minority. People want things.”
The entitlements that Republicans want to slash help poor, black and brown people but a whole heap of poor white people as well. There is a resentment there, always right below the surface. People who are on government assistance are viewed as leeches. They want “things,” as O’Reilly said. I guess well-to-do people don’t want things? Isn’t having “things” part of what America is about? And those who do not have the things that they see the well-to-do, or at least comfortable, people have yearn for the day when they’ll be able to have those things too. That is part of the capitalist ethos, isn’t it?
The Cheshire cat grins and walks quietly away. America will not struggle, will not confront her, and she knows it.
We don’t like to struggle, and yet it is through struggle that we become whole. Struggle happens when we confront ourselves, our weaknesses, our issues, our fears, our fears. Struggle happens when we see ourselves for who we are, not for what we would like to be. When we refuse to struggle, our issues clog us up. We are always on defense, always trying to justify ourselves and where we are. We do not grow if we refuse to struggle.
America is not nearly the nation she could be, because we refuse to struggle with this dogged racism. The Republicans have awakened; the nation is not lily white anymore. They will have to pay attention to people of many colors and hues. Demographics. Mitt Romney lost to every demographic except for white people We as a nation do not want to struggle…
And we as individuals, many of us, refuse to struggle and so are not nearly what we could be.
Chittister says that “struggle is not one thing; it is many things.” The things with which we refuse to struggle are toxic and can pull us into pits so deep we cannot get out. We refuse to admit that we are not perfect, and we refuse to get help to address our imperfections. That causes deep pain. Individuals try to get rid of the pain by overeating, taking prescription meds, doing drugs…anything to stop the pain. But because pain cannot and will not go away until we walk into the chaos instead of running away from it, we have to keep on doing self-destructive things in order to breathe without hurting.
Our country lives in denial. We as a nation deny that racism is as rancid as it is, that it permeates everything we do. We have tried, consistently, to push it under the carpet, but it doesn’t stay. “This country is more divided now than it has ever been,” I heard Mary Matalin, a Conservative, Republican pundit say, She said that President Obama made it so.
The Cheshire cat grins …
I am not at all convinced that America will ever seriously deal with racism, because we keep ingesting and digesting denial. We keep the toxicity of racism with us, even though we deny it’s there.
But I would hope that we as individuals, those of us in the midst of a struggle and those of us who are avoiding a struggle in which we need to engage, would not follow our country’s example and struggle as we need to in order to grow and to become new. Chittister says that “hurt may actually be a part of the process of life.” If we find the root of our pain, we can do what we need in order to get it out, or at least take away its power. If we don’t address and treat our pain, it grows and metastasizes. like a cancer.
If we are unwilling to struggle, we cannot feel the joy of being freed from the grip of our issues. Chittister quotes Helen Keller, who wrote, “The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”
If we are unwilling to struggle, we stay in the valleys. Because of her denial of racism, America sits in a valley, not even traversing. Just sitting.
The Cheshire cat is smiling, licking her paws, settling down for a nap.
A candid observation…