I normally write about things that occur in my writing career, so this is a little off my path, but recent events… well, you know.
You, my friend, and I are preaching to the choir about social injustice, about racism, facism, nationalism, and a whole bunch of other isms that we find abhorrent. You find these things terrible, just as I do. So you write about ’em, and I write about ’em, and you and I, we write back and forth. And our followers read our stuff and say “damned right.”
But that’s how we got into this mess. Somewhere along the way, a whole great big group of people took off thinking they were doing the right thing, while another, not quite so large group, stood in the roadway, blinking away the dust from those departing horses, and wondered “what?”
And now the two sides don’t listen to each other.
I am all for the abolishment of racism, but let me tell you a little story.
My mom was a razor-sharp witted newspaper columnist, card-carrying communist, beatnik loving liberal. She came from the Midwest, leaving there during the Great Depression. My father came from a very conservative upper crust Ohio family. My liberal, artistic dad was the black sheep of the family, and left for California to get away from them.
And those two people instilled in me a live-and-let-live regard for the beliefs, backgrounds, and choices of others. They did in all of kids, but recent events have shown that it didn’t stick with one or two of us.
For all that, my parents were not above telling a good racist joke whenever we were all just hanging out. The N word came up in those jokes, not as the way they personally felt, but as a reflection of the culture in which they grew up.
As a sidebar, some of those jokes were pretty funny, and had nothing to do with racism. I converted some of them so that I could share them with my kids: what does Pontiac stand for? Poor Old Nutcase Thinks It’s a Cadillac. You can see where the N word might be in that joke.
So, how do we, you and I, combat that? While we congratulate ourselves for being good, liberal people, we do nothing – NOTHING – to change the world, because we’re only talking amongst ourselves.
Those folks, those against whom we rail, don’t hear us.
That is the challenge of our age. If you want change, that is where it has to happen.
Gandhi’s line of “be the change you want to see” only goes so far, and doesn’t work if there’s no communication.
I chose the title of this post because Viet Nam was a war of hearts and minds. We didn’t succeed there because we couldn’t impress our message into the hearts and minds of those for whom we were fighting. The same thing happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now the battle line is right here in your town.
The guy across the street from me is a strong right-winger, who sees the protesters as hooligans and covid-19 as a hoax, and I’m afraid to approach him because I’d prefer peace in my neighborhood.
While I firmly believe that his is the problem, I can see that it’s mine, too. I’m a coward. I choose the flawed status quo over making an enemy, even though we don’t talk, scarcely acknowledge one another, and have nothing more than addresses in common. Because I’m a coward.
Racism, fascism, nationalism, all those different isms, won’t go away by you and I writing back and forth about how much we hate it.
They’ll go away when we learn to communicate meaningfully with those who perpetuate it.
They’ll go away when we and our supposed enemies can see eye-to-eye and find common ground.
Until then, we’re just preaching to the choir.