Charlottesville: An incomplete response
One song on my Christmas playlist is Johnny Cash’s rendition of “I heard the bells on Christmas day”. There is a line that in my darker moments resonates with my heart:
And in despair, I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
The raw display of hatred this weekend in Charlottesville angered and sickened me. Most of my early responses were basically disgust and despair, bordering on pure hatred: How can you be so pathetic that you think your whiteness and the advantages it comes with need to be protected? What are you afraid of? Losing a job to a black person? Have you not bothered to learn anything on your own so you can land a job, say, on your merit instead of your skin color? Is your whiteness seriously the only thing in your life of which you are proud?
Then, I was convicted.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
If I imagine that my own hatred and mockery are justified, just because I aim it at those who already hate, I’ve fallen into a trap. It’s an old trap, one that perpetuates over generations and can be seen in ethnic conflicts all over the world. Madeleine L’Engle explores the idea when Charles Wallace responds to IT’s hatred and is himself trapped by hatred.
And there is a long list of fighters and thinkers who face the issue, incompletely and imperfectly, but who grasped that the correct response to hatred and violence cannot itself be hatred and violence. Gandhi, King, Mandela in his later years, all realized this and pushed back, hard, but without malice.
And this is where our president’s statements over the weekend demonstrate a glaring ignorance at best, a willful support of racism at worst. By painting with a wide brush and talking about “all sides” he makes it sound like the competing ideas are simply an opinion, a moral equivalence of no consequence: Coffee or tea? Chocolate or vanilla? Black people in our country or send them back to Africa?
It’s time to push back against willful, ignorant hatred. I don’t know what my next steps are, but it’s time for thoughtful, forceful action. As Bruce Cockburn put it:
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.
15 August 2017