Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Break the Cycle

I recently had a conversation about race and labels that really set the wheels in motion about the bigger picture.  I’ve been thinking about it for days.
It made me feel like a tree-hugging hippie too.  But sometimes I am a tree-hugging hippie.
I went to dinner with some friends of mine last week, and the issue of race came up.  It wasn’t so much the issue of race as it was the issue of labels.  Specifically, the word “nigger”.  (I have to admit that just typing that made me feel like a horrible person.  But it is the point of this post so I’m not going to gloss over it by saying “the n-word”.  That would take the power from the word.)
So, the person talking about this grew up in the deep south.  He and his friends have no problem using the word “nigger” and other derogatory terms for black people.  He laughed it off like it’s not a big deal.  He pointed out that black people use that word with each other all the time, so why is it any different when he says it?
Then he said that where he’s from black people hate white people just as much as white people hate black people, so what is the problem with using words like that when they’re just as racist as we are?
I can’t even describe the thoughts that race around my head when conversations like this come up.  I am going to try to put them in order but it gets messy.
#1 Labels.  Words hurt.  My friends and I can sit around and joke about my fat white ass, but if a stranger talks about my fat white ass that’s a WHOLE other thing.  It goes from casually laughing with friends to being targeted for an aspect of my physicality.  If I call my close female friends “tramps” or “hookers” it is from a place of silly fun.  I never mean it, and the irony is that if I did mean it I would certainly never say it.  And I would NEVER label a stranger with a word like that.  I have a feeling that being called a nigger would feel about 1000 times worse.  I have no exact frame of reference, since I am a white person, but being a woman can be marginalizing as well.  So maybe I do have a hint of understanding about this.
#2 While I’m sure that I have subconsciously racist tendencies just like everyone else, I really don’t like being put in the “us” versus “them” box when people talk about race.  If “we” hate black people, and “we” are hated by black people, I don’t want to be a part of your “we”.
#3 Stereotypes.  Generalizations.  I am sure that not every black person in Mississippi hates white people.  And vice versa. Groups of people may share some attitudes, but there are always exceptions.  There are always going to be those who don’t identify with a group they inherently belong to.  And there will be those who are actively trying to change perceptions and relations.
#4  Which ties directly to this: telling yourself that an entire group of people hates you gives you an excuse to not bother trying.  This is cowardice and laziness and fear.  Don’t get to know people who are different from you, they’ll hate you anyway.  Don’t waste your precious time helping your neighbor, they won’t want your help because they hate you.  When you examine Muslims vs Christians, Rich vs Poor, Black vs White, Gays vs Whoever Hates Gays (for whatever reason), there is an underlying idea that the few represent the whole.
Are all Muslims terrorists?  Of course not.  If those who hold hate towards all Muslims did some research they would be shocked at how peaceful the religion is.  I can’t think of one religion where killing is condoned, but all religions have some extremists who use their faith as a front.
Are all Christians right-wing conservatives?  Of course not.
Are all poor people lazy good-for-nothings and all rich people greedy republican snobs?  Again, of course not.
Do all black people and all white people hate each other?
I hope you see where I’m going with this.
And here’s where I turn into a hippie.  We are all citizens of this planet.  We are all people with the same feelings, hopes, and fears.  We all want our children to have better lives than we do.  Nothing makes us better or worse than anyone else except for maybe being close minded and indifferent.  The world won’t be a better place if we don’t put aside our differences and come together in the spirit of understanding and bridge-building.
If you want to be Christian about it, Jesus taught about acceptance, and loving your enemies while praying for those who persecute you.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Do you want people to hate you?  No.  No one wants to be hated.  So you have to be the one who turns the other cheek and practices what you preach.
Be a rebel!  Be the one who goes against the grain and questions hatred and prejudice.  Am I getting preachy?  Yes.  Because I truly believe that intolerance and a lack of compassion or understanding are where the world’s problems come from.
I will leave you with quotes!  I have heard these so often since I was a child that they feel familiar as breathing, but when you really REALLY think about them, they are profound.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Nothing in this world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Mahatma Gandi
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love, it is the prerogative of the brave.”  Mahatma Gandi

Originally posted 10/30/13.

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