Understanding America

I do not understand this country I thought I knew.

American-flag-America

 

Yes, there is and has always been racism, and sexism and in fact, all kinds of oppression meted out to a lot of people and groups. The history of racial and sexual oppression of people in this country is not pretty. People want to deny it, or ignore it, but it is there.

Even though I read this history and am knowing it better and better, even though I knew the history of domestic terrorism which white mobs have engaged in, most times with the help and support of law enforcement, I always thought that deep down, underneath the racial hatred,  there was the possibility of hatred passing away or at least diminishing so that all God’s children could live together.

I believed that.

I do not believe that all white people are bad, nor do I believe that all white people are racist.

But this election has shown me that too many white people are racist and are unable to rise above their racism for the common good.

During the presidential election, I truly thought that the masses of Americans, white and black, would be disappointed, angered and repulsed by the hateful rhetoric spewed by the incoming president. I thought they would reject hatred, reject racism and sexism and all the other “isms” that we heard over the past year and a half.

But the masses didn’t care. The incoming president tapped into something in them – an anger based on economic woes, for sure, but also based on something else more sinister. They did not care what he said, who he said it about, how true or false it was, how crass it was, or whose feelings it would hurt.

He was going to “make America great again,” which seemed, in the end, to mean that he was going to give a lot of Americans permission to openly …hate …again.

I was sure the masses of Americans would be dismayed that he used people from Breitbart News as close advisors. I was wrong. I was sure people who called themselves patriotic would be appalled at this would-be president delegitimizing the heroism of Sen. John McCain. He was speaking to a certain group of people – mostly white – and he was clear about it.

I was sure the masses of Americans would reject that. I thought we had come further than that.

I was sure Americans would be disgusted by this man making fun of journalist who had a disability. He said he didn’t do that; his surrogates say he didn’t, either. No, it was the “dishonest media” that spread that story. He completely ignored the fact that people saw him, saw what he did and said.

His supporters were ready for a change; how it came about didn’t matter. They loved it that he was “not a politician” and that he “said it like it was.”

But “like it was” for whom?

Time will tell what this man’s policies will be. It is not my opinion of his shortcomings which is the big deal here. The big deal is that the masses of Americans supported his hateful rhetoric. They applauded and ignored his name-calling and bullying people They ignored his obviously thin skin and his lack of impulse control. Even now, they do not care that he is buddying up to Vladimir Putin.

It is troubling to me because I thought I knew America, fundamentally. I thought there were more people who despised racial hatred than there were people who still live in it.

I was wrong.

A candid observation…

 

 

White Paranoia

In an article written in Harpers Magazine in 1964, political historian Richard Hofstadter describes the heart and soul of, it would seem, many a white person in these United States. In this essay, Hofstadter says that white Americans, primarily from and of the Right Wing are angry; they feel dispossessed, he says, feeling like “America has largely been taken away from them.”  He writes:

…the modern right wing…feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitians and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of America power. (http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/)

Hofstadter lays out, in that same article, “basic elements” of contemporary right wing thought: 1) the belief in a sustained conspiracy which reached its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was put into place to undermine free capitalism and to bring the economy under federal control; 2) a belief that top government is infiltrated and influenced by  Communists, and 3) a belief that the nation is “infused” with a network of communists. (see same article, cited above, pp. 81-82)

The paranoia these days is not so much the Communists, but are, rather, “the Muslims.” Our 21st century paranoid and fear-mongering politicians seem unable at best and unwilling at worst to make the point that not all Muslims are terrorists, even as they ignore the terrorist acts which have been and continue to be carried out by white Christians; they ignore for the most part what white terrorists in America do while they work at feeding the fear of a mass of people who feel dispossessed and angry and scared. Many to all of the world’s problems, these candidates seem to say, can be traced directly to “the Muslims.”

What in the world causes this kind of paranoia within the right-wing? While I am sure there is some left-wing issue I need to address, what sticks out for me is this right-wing hysteria which always seems to have a target on which to pin the blame for its policies and actions. Religious historian Karen Armstrong has said that it is when there has been too much change that we see a rise in right-wing, paranoid rhetoric and a return of religious fundamentalism. The operative word is “change.” It seems that many Americans are all right so long as  “things remain the same.”

Of course, that is foolhardy. The essence of life is change. The America that the Founding Fathers envisioned and shaped has long since outgrown that definition. That America was one where white supremacy was the rule, where white, Protestant men were the kings of the road. There was no room for the rights of women, blacks, Hispanics, members of the LGBTQ community. White men apparently believed that that America was the only legitimate America, and as the years have rolled by, the consistent changes have roiled the souls of apparent American purists.

There has been much change, and change is always difficult. I remember in seminary the “inclusive language” movement got its start; I remember being appalled at the new reality that said using male pronouns was wrong, that saying “King” and “Lord” was wrong; I was irritated that words of some of my favorite hymns had to be changed to accommodate the cry for gender equality. In some instances, when “politically correct” lyrics were printed in a program booklet, I purposely sang the words I had grown up with and loved.

And yet, the change was in place, and the reason for the change was valid. The Founding Fathers had no use for women; their ideology was white male- based and white-male driven. Women were tired of being considered second class sex-objects. In spite of my objections, the change was going to take place.

Change has continued to be the foundation of our America, and while it may be difficult for many to most, it is the right-wing that has responded with fear, hatred …and paranoia. Change does not mean that America will be no more; change means that America will be better. Oppressed groups do not need “outsiders” like Communists to spur them to seek liberation and dignity; radical Muslims are no more numerous than are radical Christians and Zionists. The human spirit pushes for that on its own and those who resort to terrorist tactics feel their dignity has been debased. They fight for it, right or wrong, but it seems that in this country, the only fight for liberation and dignity which has been deemed valid is that of white people. The American Revolution was a fight for dignity and independence.  White people have loved their freedom and privilege but people of color, women, same-gender loving people want their freedom as well. It is the height of arrogance to believe that oppressed people are satisfied with their lot.

Hofstadter makes the point that the paranoia we are seeing today in the hue and cry of the right wing is not a new phenomenon; there is  a history of the right, decrying and denigrating groups including Catholics, Jesuits, Masons, and, as already mentioned, “the Communists.” The author says that “the paranoid style is an old and recurrent theme of America.

Because there is so much change occurring, this nation is not going to see less hateful and racist rhetoric, but more. It is hard to listen to, from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina …and all the others. Those of us listening to their words can only remember that this sort of thing is not new, that this nation has survived these types of racist outcries in the past and this nation will survive this one. The paranoia which has resulted as the result of too much change is a fear that the “old America” is gone; the goal of the alarmists and hate-mongers is to “take the country back” and to “make America great again.” What they do not understand is that the America about which they are nostalgic is long gone. There is a new America and indeed a new world which American politicians on the right have not yet acknowledged …and they never will. Hofstadter notes in his article that “we are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.” (p. 86)

A true and candid observation …

The Heritage of Hatred

Confederate flag

 

I have been watching and listening with interest to the conversation surrounding the Confederate flag. Whites (and some blacks) who want to keep the flag on the grounds of the State Capitol keep talking about the flag representing their heritage, and they say that heritage is about the bravery of the Confederate sons who died defending the Confederacy and what it stood for.

It stood for slavery and for hatred of black people.  The heritage which so many are trying to preserve was based on and infused throughout with, hatred.

The heritage of the Confederate South was based on its refusal to let go of the “right” to own black people. The heritage held that “negroes” were the property of white people, and could thus be treated in any way the master saw fit. The heritage included the need for the white supremacist South to hold onto and to increase its number of slaves so that the economy of the South could continue to flourish. The heritage and the subsequent fight was about the right to own slaves, and about preserving the inequality between white and black people.

The heritage which so many want to preserve and remember included lynching black people for nothing, for crimes of which they were accused but which they had not committed. The heritage was about raping black slave women while putting out the “word” that black men were raping their women. The heritage was about ripping black families apart, ignoring the screams and wails of mothers as their children were ripped from their arms; it was about splitting apart black husbands and wives.

The heritage was about making it illegal for blacks to learn to read and write; it was about allowing black children to go only so far in school, because their owners wanted them in the fields, making them money.  The heritage was about using all-white juries to convict black people of crimes, about keeping silent when a black person was accused of a crime that everyone knew had been committed  by a white person. The heritage was about white law enforcement officers either staying quiet about a lynching, or taking part in the lynching …or both.  The heritage was about a federal government which did little to protect African-Americans, about a United States Supreme Court which did more to squelch the rights of black people than to increase and protect them.

The heritage was about white people doing what they did to black people because they did not consider black people to be fully human. Indeed, Charles Carroll wrote a book which was a favorite back then, The Negro, a Beast.”  The heritage was about using the Bible to justify racist beliefs and practices; the heritage, in effect, used God’s name in vain.

This heritage had no compassion, no conscience, no desire for noble and, dare I say it, Christian behavior for or toward black people.  This heritage was marked by narcissism, seeking to protect the interests of a people called white, who elevated themselves to have dominion over any people they wanted.

This heritage allowed black people to be lynched, allowed white mobs to storm jails and drag blacks accused of crimes out, only to take justice into their own hands. This heritage had no mercy, no love, no human decency.

So, yes, that flag represents heritage …but that heritage is one of hatred and degradation of a people.

That, my dear friends, is what you are talking about when you talk about “heritage.” Your ancestors fought that war and died …to perpetuate inhuman treatment of one people by another.

Tell the story…hold onto your heritage, but do it in a museum. Remember your heritage in private and don’t make those whom your ancestors died to keep enslaved and degraded, have to look at and remember that heritage on a daily basis.

It is only right that the flag come down. Heritage defined, and that heritage notwithstanding.

A candid observation …