I keep seeing posts from friends with sentiments to the effect of “If you’re a racist, you have no place in my life, so unfriend me” as a response to Trump’s loud and clear message to the Proud Boys in last night’s Presidential debate with Joe Biden.
A couple of things:
* I don’t think that goes far enough. We do not fix racism by distancing ourselves from racists. That only allows them to fester and multiply.
* I am avowedly anti-racist, and probably the most work I do in combating racism is finding it within myself and then removing it wherever and wherever I can.
This is a lifelong process that I could not have done at all on my own.
I recognize I was born in a culture where racism was commonplace, and takes on many forms, some overt and obvious, others insidious yet pervasive. The shit seems normal, because it IS normal. Normal and wrong, but very much normal. Racism is the norm, and we need to change the norm.
One of the earliest things I learned though was that prejudice, stereotyping, and hating people for things that they have no control over, such as the way the look, or where they come from, is wrong, and has caused tremendous suffering throughout our history.
When I speak of racism as being “the norm” I do not mean that most people are actively and affirmatively racist in thought and deed, and admire and agree with or belong to extremist terror organizations like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Proud Boys, etc.
That shit is definitely NOT normal, but it is on the rise, and must be actively fought against.
What IS normal is that families are genetically related. Families support each other and favor each other. This extends naturally to racial identity and so forth. You root for your home team because they’re your home team, and you hate the team from the nearby town, because when they win your games, you don’t get trophies.
Racism begins from that point, and extends into pretty much everything you can think about. And that sort of cultural racism is like the air we breathe. It surrounds us and we don’t even think of ourselves as being immersed in it. We see an empty box as an empty box, not a box that is full of air. And like the air, it is necessary to an extent. We need it to breathe. We need oxygen to burn. We can put fire to good use. We can also burn ourselves and destroy everything we’ve built. We need shelter when the wind is too strong.
That is the way the world is. You can’t hate fire. It’s just chemistry. You can hate what fire does when it is out of control and destructive. You can also find that fire is very useful.
Love and hate are like sides of a coin. Love of self, hate of other. Extend the self to embrace love of all. Or hate everything around you and be consumed in the fire of hate.
Most of us have a fairly short love horizon. The self. Your family. Your child. Your friends. Maybe neighbors, if you have a strong community and good neighbors. The people in your home town. The kids you went to school with. The people who settled a geographic region and have existed there for generations. Not everyone in the world though, not Them. They look different, They turned to Other. They talk funny. They act strange. We cannot share with such people. They are not people. They need to be exterminated.
You can see from the above that the love horizon reaches out to a distance, and between the point of origin rooted at the self and that horizon there is a gradient. For those who’s love is greatest, it pushes all the way past the horizon to include all. For most of us, we fall somewhere short of this. For too many of us, we fall well short.
When we lose the ability to see our neighbor as an Us, and see them as an Other, that is the beginning of our undoing. If we try to turn Racist People into another Other that we can hate, that will be our undoing as well.
We need to recognize that Racists are Us, and that We are Racist. We need to address that fact, head on, and deal with it. We need to fix ourselves. Those of us who have committed to fixing ourselves are obviously not the clear and present danger of a militant radical motivated by racial hate to do violence. Those motherfuckers are indeed where the focus needs to be right now. I don’t know myself how to see Them as Us, and I am so revolted by them that I truly have no desire to. I would rather fight them and kill or be killed. But I know that if we go down that way, many of Us will be killed.
We need to know that just as you can’t live in a world where it is impossible for anything to burn, you can’t live in a world where there is no possibility that the idea that you favor that which is closest and most familiar to you will lead to larger harm outside of a circle that you draw beyond the horizon of your vision. We need to stand taller than that, and see further, so we can draw a circle that includes everyone.
I deprogram myself of racist tendencies on a daily basis. Like a computer defragmenting its hard drive. The way I look at it, it’s like the laundry. The laundry is never done. You get dirty every day, you clean yourself every day. You focus on this, you make your mind right.
I did not make my mind right in a vacuum. I did not make my mind right by being inherently right and just. I did not make my mind right. I am making my mind right. An ongoing process without end. I was put in a particular place and time by fate of birth, and I moved around from there. I picked up things that were readily available around me and built myself. I followed my instinct, and I used my mind. I questioned and I listened. I made judgments and then I questioned those judgments. I worked. I made better judgments.
I am not perfect. My dad was not perfect. My uncles were not perfect at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The founders of the nation were not perfect. We can learn from them. We can follow their example or we can learn from their mistake. And we can do both.
I think of myself as better than a lot of people on this, but still I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. I will always be in the struggle. Even when there are no fires burning, you still need the Fire Department. Those who recognize this see the world as it is.
When there is a fire that is destructive and out of control, you do not reason with it. You fight the fire. You can fight a literal fire in three ways: You take away the fuel. You take away the oxygen. You can take away the heat. We are the fuel. We are surrounded by oxygen. We must deal then with the heat.
My words reminded me of the great wildfires out west. These are the times we live in, now. We must deal with that. When the fire comes and is bigger than anything we can handle, we must run. Sometimes you can get far enough out ahead of it. You may need to do a controlled burn to prevent a wild fire from spreading. I like trees, but sometimes you have to cut down a swath to make a firebreak in order to protect the forest. You get the point. I don’t need to go on torturing an extended metaphor. You can see how it applies here.
I totally get the desire to remove them from your life. I did that with many people. But it doesn’t fix the problem. And as I see it, distancing from Others only serves to increase their Otherness, which is at the root of the problem.
So while it may be necessary in some cases, for mental health, or physical safety, for example, it’s not a solution. Jumping out of a burning building doesn’t put the fire out, but people in the burning building need to get out.
The solution is for people who have the capacity to engage, get close, and then smother the fire, get it under control, and find ways to tame and use fire, turning from a destructive force into a tool that can be used for good.
I know it sounds weird to call racism a tool for good, but that’s not what I mean. I mean turning the love of self from a generator of hate for others and into a love for the expanded self that includes all.