Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives

CONFESSIONS OF A BIGOT, UPDATED

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July 21, 2016

Two years ago I posted the article below. At the time, I was just beginning treatment for the chronic pain and other illnesses that had required my retirement the year before. But I was also sick from, and sick of, my ongoing anger at how inhumanely we so-called humans treat one another, and just beginning to fully realize that I was in peril of joining the ranks of the haters. I hated intolerance, poverty, unjust legal systems—you name it. I hated those who were intolerant.

I would be reminded by those wanting to help me, of all the people who gave money and time to charities, and how we as a nation spent so much money on welfare, Medicaid, and help for people in other countries. Knowing that I was both activist and teacher, people would say they were agreeing with me by quoting the old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. To which black South Africans replied in the years prior to 1994: Yes, but what if the pond is closed to him?

When I returned home from South Africa at the end of 1995, I was devastated to find that the country of my birth was not the one to which I had returned. It seemed that I had somehow found myself back in apartheid South Africa. I have listed the reasons in another post at about the same time as this one:  https://maryleejames.com/2014/08/01/the-election-is-hanging-in-the-balance/ .  Now I must stress that we are steadily closing the pond for more and more members of our nation’s citizens. Worse, large numbers of our countrymen simply do not care. Life is cheap in America today, just as it was in South Africa in the days of apartheid.

In a post pondering the first year of my new life written one year ago, I have also elaborated on my struggles with anger and the increasing movement of this country toward the actual conditions of apartheid, but now in new clothing. https://maryleejames.com/2015/06/20/ponderings-on-the-first-year-of-my-second-chance-at-life/.

Now it has been two years, and I am not sure just how successful I have been at conquering my anger—or my inability to cope with other’s intolerance. But I do still believe all that I have said in the post below, and the others mentioned. I know I am not the only person in America struggling with this anger. About half of us, however, are on the opposite side of the ones we believe are creating our anger.

But the truth is that we are all the same. We have different ideas and different beliefs in our heads, but since we hate the mere sight of those who differ in any way, we can’t talk about and either resolve or respect those differences. As a result, our nation is in chaos. Our legislators wonder why this is the case, when they have stubbornly failed to do their jobs, and to show leadership with integrity by putting the needs of our country before their own. I could cite specifics, but it is not necessary. We all know what they are, we just can’t agree on which acts were right and which were detrimental to the nation.

Civic Responsibility. Civil Rights. Civil discourse. All based on the same root word, all meaning being accountable to, and for, other members of our country. They are requirements for a democratic process to succeed. And they all rule out acting on our hatreds and require putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, even if only for the time it takes to work out a common problem.

Otherwise, we become responsible for wiping out hundreds of years of human progress, and become the savages that Hobbes once claimed we were.

 God, bless America,

by returning to us the love we once had for You,

and for your Image in all human beings.

 

June 20, 2015

bare tree

I am of an age where I sometimes remember things that happened years ago better than I remember what I had for breakfast, or even what I intended to do when I walked into this room.   Today, I am recalling a conversation with a fellow college student, when I exclaimed impatiently that I “just cannot stand intolerant people!” I was, in a word, furious.

As I recall the day in question, the other students and I were discussing a “typically racist” response to a situation in our city. In memory, I clearly see the bemused expression on the face of the co-ed, and the hesitation in her voice, when following my outburst she inquired: “is that not just another form of bigotry?” She was pretty brave to venture such a profound observation, considering both the twenty-plus years of difference in our ages, and the potentially negative reaction that bigots may exhibit when being called out. For the record, she remained unharmed and we remained friends. Nevertheless, it was an enlightening and humbling moment for me.

I do have to admit that did not mean that I was cured of my ability to intensely dislike and resent certain people or groups of people whose behavior results in harm to others. I was just no longer able to demonstrate my dislike free of the knowledge that my own behavior could place me on the playing field alongside my adversaries. I am getting better at saying “I hate your behavior, but I do not hate you,” and really meaning it. But usually that can only happen if I am able to swallow the anger that rises up whenever I see people being hurt or deprived of their rights; of their humanity. Sometimes, still, it does not happen until the sentiment is no longer relevant to the target of my ire, but at least I can resolve the bitterness that otherwise would cripple me.

I have never been able to understand hating others because of skin color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion. That is probably why my first academic choice was anthropology, until circumstances placed me in a trajectory towards a degree in sociology. Today, it occurs to me that as a sociologist by profession and a social activist by nature, I am forever dealing with the ambiguity that exists at the point of intersection where I need to speak out in an attempt to rectify the harmful actions that take place in our society, while at the same time—as one who deeply wishes to acknowledge that we are all made in the image of the God we profess to be our own creator—at the same time honoring that Image in the very ones with whom I am at odds. All too often, the realization that I am less than human in the eyes of those same people makes it even more difficult to deal with my own prejudices.

Worse, I begin to stereotype entire groups of people based on their membership in the same category as the people who are creating my problem….it may be

politicians.

lobbyists.

 media.

insurance companies and by implication, insurance agents, or

CEOs of all corporations, for example.

The list goes on, and long after the situation is ended the prejudice tends to remain. So I must deal with myself before, during and after each campaign to right a wrong if I am to honestly claim the title of Christian as well as living as a social activist. In fact, by now I would venture to say that I must do this if I am to have any integrity as a human being. But in practice, this tends only to add to the ambiguities of the situation.

For example, if I work to expose the wrongdoing of a person or group, what credibility will I have if I fail to express my anger at the results of the wrongdoing? At what point do I cross the line between hating the behavior, and hating the person? In a situation within a group where the contenders know each other and acknowledge some important values in common, it is much easier to respect the humanity of the opposing faction. In the broader context, however, it becomes nearly impossible to see that threatening party—almost always a stranger–as a member of one’s own species, let alone as another who is also made in God’s image.

In such cases, the battle can only escalate until one side or the other is thoroughly defeated. They may be relatively harmlessly defeated by being ousted from power, but failing that, they may be only defeated by death. In the case of our country, if we carried this scenario to its extreme, democracy would have been defeated as well.  Anarchy will have won, for it is not possible to live in harmony without trust in a system and in the people who empower that process, when we have failed to protect the vital essence of the humanity of each and every person who inhabits the system.

The good news is that despite the ongoing need for corrections within our society, we are a people who daily live with their neighbors and friends in a peaceful and productive manner. We are people who love our families, our vocations, our churches and our cities. We are proud Americans, and we still enjoy some of the freedoms of a democracy. Our nation is NOT broken! But even the most tolerant of us is still capable of bigotry, and most of us don’t recognize our own role in it. I know, from long experience, that I am most susceptible to this kind of bigotry when I am suffering from the most justifiable (in my eyes, at least), most righteous, anger.

I will never be free of the need to take a deep breath, and with deliberation and truthfulness remind myself that He who made me also created my enemy. He created my enemy, who in some instances may also be praying to that same God for victory in this particular situation.

I sometimes imagine that God could be wondering when His creatures will stop hating each other in His name, and honor that Name by working out our problems with each other instead of asking Him to take sides.

Admittedly, that is a utopian wish. Such ongoing peace is rarely achieved in families, much less in nations.  I am enough of an historian to know that ours is not a story of prolonged periods of living in peace with one another as a nation, yet we share the common value of our unity and in the past have achieved significant results by putting aside our differences in order to protect our common values.

We know how to do this. Our differences are not insurmountable as long as we stop reinforcing the walls that separate us to the point that we can no longer see what we have in common. Perhaps also, as I have constantly to do, we will have to tame the bigot within ourselves before we can work together again as fellow humans.

“One nation……” Like all relationships, it takes work and commitment.  Right now, I have that commitment still.

But I am very angry.

butterfly - Maya Angelou

Author: profemjay

I am a retired Professor of Sociology with interests in the Sociology of Medicine, Political Sociology, the Sociology of Development, Social Action and the Sociology of Religion.

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