The challenge for all of us is to develop more than just a superficial understanding of ourselves and of the world. The struggle, however, of interpreting things accurately is real. It isn’t just that we “see through a glass, darkly” – in many cases, we have wittingly covered our eyes and ears. We’ve shielded our hearts from any influence that might help to soften it. Most people, although they argue vehemently to the contrary, do not, in fact, want to see or hear or understand. And despite what they say, their goal isn’t to re-create themselves or the world in the image of something better. It is to re-create us and the world in their image. In the age of social media and selfies, self-worship tempts us all.
This becomes clear in the recent Covington fiasco. The problem isn’t just that Americans are divided, as many are wont to argue. The more significant problem is just how desperate we are to believe the worst in our political and ideological opponents. We’ve become so hysterically untethered from rational thought that we no longer suspect the worst in others, we actually hope for it. We want our intellectual foes to be the monsters we imagine they must be. Indeed, we need them to be the kinds of sub-humans that would justify our diabolical desire for violence against them.
I don’t think any of what is happening has anything really to do with political differences. No, I think the crux of the issue lies in the fact that there is a gaping hole in the heart of America – a hole so wide and so black certain groups of individuals are taking advantage of the opportunity to justify (falsely) the worst in themselves. Never mind who they hurt in the process. To be sure, hurting people is the point.
There is a difference between being sincerely deceived by the initial reports (and sincerely apologizing afterward for any part you might have played in propagating a falsehood) and willfully engaging in a misinformation campaign that specifically sought to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the Covington kids and their families.
But there’s another side to this story that no one seems to be covering. As much as we hear about racism in America, we are witnessing how racism in 21st century America most often manifests itself: The media are more focused on the kids’ reaction to the adults’ provocation than they are on the fact that adults were provoking kids. Why? Doesn’t that seem strange to you? If it doesn’t, you might want to consider whether or not you have certain racist tendencies. Could it be that the majority of the Covington kids are white whereas Nathan Phillips and the Black Israelites are not? In other words, white kids are held to a standard higher than that of minority adults. That’s not only backwards, but, make no mistake, it’s racist.
Here’s a clip from the classic movie Remember the Titans that should be instructive.
In this scene, Coach Boone (played by Denzel Washington) is helping Coach Yoast (played by Will Patton) understand that Coach Yoast expects more from the white kids than he does from the black kids. The white kids can take Coach Boone’s relatively harsh treatment of them. The black kids, however, according to Coach Yoast’s coddling of them, cannot. Coach Boone is right: Coach Yoast is a racist, but not in the way we are accustomed to experiencing racism. Coach Yoast expects less of the black kids not because he loves or cares about them, but because he thinks less of them. They can’t be expected to rise to the same challenges as their white teammates because, although he doesn’t seem to be consciously aware of this, in his mind, they are inferior to them. Although Coach Yoast thinks he’s helping the black kids by indulging them, Coach Boone knows better: he’s crippling them. He’s instilling in them a belief that they should be held to a standard lower than that of their white teammates. To be clear, that is evil, wrong and, yes, racist.
We’re watching similar scenes play out today. For example, opposition to voter ID laws. I cannot for the life of me understand how any person – especially any minority person – would tolerate a politician or pundit positing the racist idea that minorities are somehow less capable of obtaining government sponsored IDs as are their white contemporaries. Unless minorities are being refused service at government offices or are going to be the only people required to show an ID to vote, shame on anyone that insinuates on any level that minorities cannot or should not rise to the same challenges as everyone else. Or, just as egregiously, perhaps you’re suggesting that minority people don’t care about the integrity of our voting system. Either way, shame on you.
Americans must awake to the fact that discord and division is big business. Conquering the American spirit becomes much easier if we’re divided.
It’s my hope that we will bankrupt by refusing service the institutions that profit by dividing people rather than uniting them. Of course, there will always be differences. However, our differences should not lead us to hate one another. Let us not be so gullible as to think everyone that disagrees with us must be some kind of monster. Let us begin our conversations by recognizing just how much we have in common. Then, and only then, can we have reasonable and responsible debates about our differences.
It will not be possible for us to agree on everything. We’ll have to agree to disagree on many things. However, there is never an excuse to mischaracterize our opponents or their positions.
Let us start there.