The Cost of Denying What You See

             The political climate in this country has many people angry, confused, and anxious. Even as the impeachment proceedings are going on in the Senate (I cannot call it a “trial” because it is so fraught with issues) there is no comfort that there will be a civilized end to the turmoil that has been the signature of this country for the past three years. Tribalism has become a live, virulent creature that seemingly will not be tamed or quieted.

I have been silent for weeks because I have not known what to say. What I see is the systematic unraveling of our country’s government as we have known it. I see values like honesty, regard for the law and for the Constitution, and political civility giving way to bold lies and sense of arrogance that dares anyone to try to stop what is happening. I see attacks on the press, manipulation of the concept of religious freedom to support one group of religious people at the expense of all others, and a disregard for this country’s allies.

I see the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, showing and using his considerable political acumen, in all of its ruthlessness.  I see one group of politicians trying to show the country and the world what is happening to America’s democracy, and another group of politicians saying that what we are seeing and hearing is not, in fact, the truth or real.

It is daunting and exhausting to watch.

But what is bothering me most is that people are denying what appears to be the truth; they refuse to listen to or look at voices and/or documents that support accusations that are being made. And I see simultaneously others who do see what is going on and who are gnawing on their fingernails as the process of dismantling this democracy is happening right before our eyes.

Denial of a problem does not make it go away. We, as human beings, are good at denying. Wives and husbands who get all of the warning signals that their spouse is cheating deny what they see. Parents who sense that their child is in trouble, perhaps doing drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or hanging out with the wrong people, deny what they see, sense, and feel. Neighborhoods deny that there the trouble that plagues other places could ever come to their streets until a horrific tragedy happens. People deny that there is police brutality until one of their loved ones becomes a victim. Parents deny that their son or daughter is gay until that child comes out; they have “known” all along, but preferred to live in denial.

Denial doesn’t work. Truth always comes up and out, and usually at the most inopportune times.

We in this country have lived in denial for a long time, pretending like our foundation is not racist and pretending that we believe in democracy. In fact, a broad swath of Americans has never believed that people of color are “equal” or deserving of full American citizenship. In the 19th century, white people in the North denied that they were racist until they were faced with scores of black people migrating North, looking for work and dignity. Being against the institution of slavery was one thing; granting black people full citizenship and saying that they were equal with whites was quite another. We still live in denial about our innate racism, but it is part of the foundation of this country. Some analysts say that what we are seeing is the move to “make America white again.” The push-back against allowing people of color to img_0231enter this country or stay in this country is part of the fear of white people no longer being the majority population in this country by the year 2044. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/us/white-americans-minority-population.html) White men are intent on staying in power by any means necessary, but many of us are in denial that their practices and policies are rooted in the belief in the need to preserve white supremacy.

It is exhausting to watch, and troubling as well, because it seems that the progression of forcing regression to an earlier America where there was less tolerance of all people, in spite of our claim of American exceptionalism is on a fast train speeding down a hill. Nobody wants to admit it or talk about it. Nobody wants to say out loud that the voter suppression tactics that are being put into place are racist in their intent, designed to keep black and brown people out of the polling booths. And yet, what we are seeing is the result of having denied since our inception that white supremacy is America’s cancer. And it is eating us alive in the present day, even as we pretend we do not see what is going on.

Audre Lorde, an African American essayist, who described herself as a “black lesbian, warrior, mother, and poet” wrote the words, “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you.” The silence that so many people are living in and trying to maintain, the silence that keeps voices of truth from being heard, is not going to save America. Silence is denial, and denial is only a temporary stop-gap to the problems around us. Sooner or later, the truth will push through like an angry geyser, spraying the area around it with drops of truth.

The geyser of denial is bubbling beneath us, even as this president and administration continue their work to stay in power. I’m not quite sure what this country will look like once it bursts through our carefully cultivated ground of denial, but I am fairly certain that the “carnage” will be significant.

A candid observation.

White Supremacy Robs Country of Moral Agency

This week I was listening again to an interview of author Adam Cohen by Terri Gross of NPR’s “Here and Now” and was reminded again of how white supremacy has robbed the world of the capacity it had to honor God’s command that we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (https://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/521360544/the-supreme-court-ruling-that-led-to-70-000-forced-sterilizations)

Cohen is the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. The book is a fascinating account of how this nation is white supremacist at its core – having a mindset that upholds that white people – more specifically white men – are superior to all people who do not meet their standards of excellence. The affected targets of white supremacist policies and practices are black and brown people, for sure, but also women, Muslims, and Jews, members of the LGBTQIA community, the disabled …the list is actually quite extensive.

We already know that wealthy, Protestant, white male superiority was written into the Constitution; we know that Thomas Jefferson never intended for people to believe that all people were created equal. Our founding document was meant to clear a way for wealthy, white, male landowners to make America white and to keep it white.

That statement is not hyperbole but is supported by America’s own documents and statements of and from American folk heroes. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a key character in Cohen’s book, was a supporter of eugenics – the discipline which worked to create and maintain a “master race,” which, it decided, included only “Nordic” people.  Holmes, says Cohen, “had suggested years earlier that the best route to societal reform lay in “taking in hand life and trying to build a race.’” (p. 9) In ruling for the constitutionality of the government’s practice of sterilizing people whose existence they thought threatened the goal of creating a master race, words of Holmes showed how the poison of white supremacy permeates even the institution charged with meting out justice when all else fails  when he said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Belief in the supremacy of white people (who were white enough, not “swarthy, as Ben Franklin once complained about the German people)  led people and continues to lead people to believe that some people, because they are “better” than others, are worthy of better treatment, better opportunity and better lives in general. In the 1920s, the eugenics movement was hugely popular. Eugenicists believed that “the unfit,” whom they defined, “threatened to bring down not only the nation but the whole human race.” (p. 2) John D. Rockefeller Jr. and  Alexander Graham Bell were supporters of white supremacist thinking. Members of Congress relied on and celebrated their whiteness; Sen. Ellison DuRant Smith writes Cohen, said: “Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock.” (p. 5)

Books were written describing the peril of the existence of white people, including The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, and The Passing of the Great Race. Those books are probably on the bookshelves of many of our politicians who still find it difficult to treat people of color with dignity and respect.

Seen in this light, it is not or should not be surprising that the president of this country is fixated on trying to “fix” America’s “browning” problem by building a wall on our southern border, spouting off all kinds of unkind descriptions of who these people are in his opinion – rapists, drug addicts and criminals in general. Those words gaslight the racist beliefs held by so many people who ascribe to white supremacist doctrine. This country has been fighting against allowing people in this nation who are not white almost since its existence. The Immigration Act of 1924 encouraged people from northern Europe to enter this country while closing or widely limiting the numbers of people allowed to enter who hailed from southern and eastern Europe (they were not “Nordic” enough.) States in this country made laws which allowed the sterilization of people judged to be inferior which resulted in untold numbers of women who they believed fit into the “inferior” category to be segregated – i.e., kept away from men for as long as they were of child-bearing age, or to be forcibly sterilized if they remained integrated into the general society.

The work involved in the American eugenics movement was so renown in establishing white supremacy as the will for the world that the Germans borrowed many of America’s findings, based on faulty science, for the establishment of Nazi policy which resulted in the extermination of at least 6 million Jews. In the language of eugenics, Jewish people were inferior. Their presence was not necessary for the good of the world.

The rampant and rancid expression of racism we see today, spawned and nurtured by the principles of white supremacy, is not new; they are part of the very legacy of America. This president and his cabinet apparently have deep roots in white supremacy. More and more we see brazen expressions of their arrogance based on their race, and we see other white people remaining silent.

This is America.

People keep saying that what we are seeing and hearing is “not who we are” as a country. Megan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, said being called “racist” is the worst name anyone can be called. The fact is, however, is that the proponents of white supremacy are standing on the shoulders of people before them who pushed white supremacy as the will of God for this country. White supremacists have long overridden even the concept of the sovereignty of God by deciding that not all of whom God created were worthy of being created.

A friend of mine said recently, “My work is to wipe racism out of this world.” It’s a noble dream, but it appears that white supremacy is a tree with roots far too deep to ever be completely unrooted. White supremacy has robbed our country and this world of being moral when it comes to racism, sexism, and discrimination against others in general. We are bound to know its history and to create strategies which will expose it for what it is while establishing and creating justice for those who white supremacists believe are inferior.

This president and his friends in office are merely following the script put in place by those who came before them.

A candid observation …

 

Wanting America Back

I was in a high-end restaurant, waiting to have a meeting with a friend, and arrived before he did. I was led to our table, which had already been reserved.

Our table was next to one at which four white women were already sitting. They were older, looking to be in their late 70s and/or early 80s. It felt like they were engaging in a “girl’s day out” kind of time. They were laughing and sharing, talking about their husbands, their children and grandchildren, their charity work, and their professions, from which they had all retired.

I couldn’t help but hear everything they were talking about, and found myself chuckling from time to time at some of the things they shared. Privacy was not an option or a concern for them.

So, when they started talking about politics and the current slate of GOP candidates, the fact that they were sharing their views for all to hear was not surprising. They were Republicans, committed Republicans, that was for certain, because they said so, out loud.
The GOP candidates were interesting, they said. Carly “what’s her name? Is she still in the race?” Fiorina didn’t impress any of them, nor did Jeb Bush. They never mentioned Ben Carson, and kind of skated through their opinions of the candidates who have now left the race, including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul.

But then they got to the meat of their discussion: the top three candidates, according to the polls, plus Chris Christie. Trump, they said, was OK. Rubio was not; he was in favor of “bringing all those immigrants, or letting all those immigrants” come into or stay in this country. “Oh no, no immigrants,” said three of the women in response to the now-emerged spokeswoman for the group. One woman weakly tried to say that the immigrants who have been working here should be allowed to become citizens, but she was shut down.

Chris Christie should not be president, said the “louder-than-the-rest” woman because “he hugged Obama. That did it for me. He hugged Obama after Hurricane Sandy.” She said it in such a way which indicated she wanted everyone to know that yes, she said it, and yes, she absolutely meant it.

Obama, she said, was evil. Someone mentioned that Obama had visited a mosque, and had reported that Muslims were “good people.”

“Of course,” the ringleader said, “he would say that because he is a Muslim. Everyone knows that. He doesn’t go to church. He…is…a…Muslim.”

There was a pregnant pause while everyone pondered her pronouncement of “truth.,” but then the women got back to the other GOP candidates. With Trump being a little too over the top, and Rubio being in favor of keeping immigrants here and letting more come in, the only viable candidate, said the ringleader, with the other three women nodding their heads in agreement, was Ted Cruz.

“He is honest and loving and believes in the Constitution,” said Ringleader. “He is our only hope.” And then she said, quietly, “We have lost our beloved America. Our children’s children will never know the America we knew.”

Ah, the “give us our country back” sentiment took center stage. If Cruz could help bring sexism and racism back, and put all of the “isms” back in their places on the shelves of  American values, then he would have to be elected president. If Cruz could get rid of Obamacare with no thought of how millions who now have health care would feel or survive, then he would have to be elected president. If Cruz could make it so that police could have free reign with arresting and brutalizing people, then he would have to be president. If Cruz could get the military up and running like a good American military should run, and “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” as Donald Trump has said, then Cruz would have to be elected president.

I sat there, not surprised at what I was hearing, but a tad irritated that they talked so loudly so that everyone would have to hear their political discourses. They were bemoaning the threat they and many white Americans feel from forces larger than them and their remembrance of an America where bigotry and privilege went unchallenged. They were bemoaning the fact that being “politically correct” means respecting people of different religions (Islam) and colors and nationalities. They were tired of it. They wanted the voices of white people to be heard again, loudly and clearly, putting everyone and everything that wasn’t white in their proper places.

To heck with this being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” They were not interested in living into that pronouncement and they sure were not interested in nurturing the American value called pluralism.

I heard that in their discourse. I don’t think I was wrong. I wish I were…

A candid observation…