In reviewing this post as part of site maintenance, I realized it is still relevant–unfortunately–and needs to be posted again. I originally wrote it on February 22, 2015, as a Facebook post:
Recently, the local newspaper reported on racial and religious/ethnic tension in the community.
And the response in the comments online, was to deny it. To dig in the heels and refuse to see what’s going on.
For example, a black man moved here a short time ago, and was disturbed to see pickaninny statuettes. He even had to remove pickaninnies from the wallpaper when he moved into his home! He has also experienced racism in other ways. (See here, here and here.)
I came to this city 20 years ago, having grown up in a larger city with many black friends; I knew those statues were racist. I was shocked to see them around town, brazenly displayed as if the owners didn’t care what message they were sending.
Now, finally, the newspaper laid it bare. I was glad that somebody finally addressed this problem. (I did not know the owners of the statues, so I couldn’t do it myself.) To my relief, the owner of one statue simply did not know it was racist.
Which amazed me, because how can you be so clueless? I’ve known for decades that such images are racist. But at least it was not malicious.
While some people in the newspaper’s online comments were glad to see this addressed, several made comments like, These people offended by statues must have huge chips on their shoulders and need counseling.
Even one of my old college friends said this when I posted a link on Facebook.
I was floored.
Not everyone here is like this, of course. I know people around town who are not like that at all. And there were plenty of comments from people who recognize racism rather than denying it exists.
But I was surprised at what so many people wrote. Openly. On the Net. With their names attached. And no shame, just derision for the article and the man described in it.
Then we had a couple of articles this week about a local group which brought Muslims and Christians together for dialogue, study and fellowship. It was led by Sisters from our St. Agnes convent, who are very much involved in social justice, and wonderful people. (Here and here.)
The response in the comments: to spout off against how evil Islam is and, to the one person who defended the need for dialogue, the “left liberals” who are “anti-Christian.”
Floored once again.
Good heavens. Still? In 2015?
I could’ve sworn I took a time machine back to 1960!
The comments, both about racism and about Muslims, were highly offensive and disgusting.
(Though this does explain how we keep electing politicians who are getting more and more extreme and wacky, with their crazy conspiracy theories. Even our long-time and revered Republican Congressman, Petri, has been treated lately like he’s too “liberal”! Once upon a time, I was a Republican, but cannot be in good conscience anymore.)
Because of my old college friend’s comment on the statues, and her Tea Party rants lately against anything I post that’s even remotely political, I have been considering dropping her from my Facebook. Which would be sad.
But this, and her anti-children comments as well lately, make me understand better how she and my BFF Mike ended up parting ways back in 2010.
(This was the same time that I had to drop my supposed “BFF,” Richard, only to find that Mike and other college friends are my TRUE “BFF’s.”)
But this problem is NOT isolated to our little community. It is all over the country.
Meanwhile, I hear about Muslims in Jerusalem celebrating Christmas, Muslims and Christians protecting each other from violence, and Muslims forming a line around a synagogue in Norway.
I recall the sweet, quiet Muslim lady who used to drop off and pick up her son at the same church where my son went to 4K.
I recall TLC’s reality show on American Muslims, which demonstrated how “normal” they really are–and how prejudice affects them. But it got dropped before the end of the first year, while junk like “Honey Boo-Boo” stays on.
I recall that many practices of Muslims are shared by more traditional Orthodox Christians, such as headcoverings, onion domes, and prostrations.
And I note that my own religious leader, the Ecumenical Patriarch, signed a Joint Declaration with the Pope last November, which included this paragraph:
The grave challenges facing the world in the present situation require the solidarity of all people of good will, and so we also recognize the importance of promoting a constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship.
Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war.
Moreover, as Christian leaders, we call on all religious leaders to pursue and to strengthen interreligious dialogue and to make every effort to build a culture of peace and solidarity between persons and between peoples.
We also remember all the people who experience the sufferings of war.
In particular, we pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony.
Over the years, it has disturbed me to find so many Orthodox believers disparaging this Patriarch because of his work toward environmental and ecumenical causes.
I see a true leader striving to further the ends of the Gospel through peace, love, tolerance, understanding, and protecting the world God made for us.
The Patriarch was one reason why I became Orthodox instead of remaining in the liberal Presbyterian Church. I saw in him that you did not have to be a liberal Christian to live out the tenets of the faith (described in the above paragraph). Liberalism has many good traits but often goes too far the other way; now I had an alternative.
I, a lifelong Evangelical, fled and became Presbyterian in the first place because of what I saw taking over the conservative churches: intolerance, treating the Republican Party like God’s Own Party, fighting against Harry Potter instead of poverty, treating environmentalism like a lie from the pit of Hell. Not everyone was like this, of course, but I saw even good people infected by it to some extent. I myself was once infected by it.
But the Patriarch knows all too well what it is like to be persecuted, truly persecuted, not just from ridicule, but from a government which suppresses your religion. He, more than anyone, is qualified to speak of the necessity for tolerance, even for the religion of your oppressor.
And note that both he and the Pope agreed to this Declaration, both spiritual leaders of millions of Christians in the oldest Churches on the planet. These churches are as “conservative” as you can get.
But so many–at least in America–speak against the Patriarch, sounding like the far-right political fanatics who try to further the interests of corporations and Big Oil, deny the truth of climate change, sabotage the progress made in protecting our world, and promote bigotry, war and hate.
They defame our Patriarch by saying he does not further the Gospel, that he is too “politically correct.”
On the contrary, the Patriarch is fighting for Christ, carrying out Christ’s commands, a true prophet for our times.
Those who deny this, will be left behind in the dust bin of history.
The same as those who fought to keep the slaves in chains. And those who fought to keep blacks under a reign of terror in the South, and suppressed and oppressed in the North. The ones who are to blame for many ills still suffered by generations of blacks, long after the Civil War and the end of Jim Crow.
I do not agree with the Patriarch on everything. My church still opposes gay marriage, for example. But to most things I read of and from him, I cheer inwardly.
Such as his book, Encountering the Mystery.
Which I highly recommend. It is prophetic and beautiful, all about how we are to live out the words of Christ in today’s world, promoting peace, love and environmental harmony.
These words are hard and forceful because bigotry and hatred are evil and the sources of most evils in this world.
It just frustrates me to NO END that the guy who wrote this letter spoke the TRUTH about what so many minorities are dealing with, yet so many refuse to see it.
I spoke up in favor of what he said, I say that I know people this has happened to, I express the problem with intolerance is very real, yet there’s a guy who’s just so frickin’ BULLHEADED he refuses to accept it.
Just dismisses me as a “left liberal.” Just says I should “get over it.” Well, I’m not the one who has suffered, so I’m not the one to “get over” anything.
It was suffered by a little girl, only about 6 years old or so. Richard’s daughter (the one he choked), who is mixed-race, was told by classmates that their parents would not let them play with her because she’s black. This was in 2008.
It was suffered by minorities around the year 2000 when a local white supremacist group was putting posters up all over town and writing letters to the editor. I ripped one of their posters off a telephone pole.
These groups pop up every now and then. As recently as 2010, a white supremacist group put flyers on cars in North Fond du Lac.
I’m not the one suffering it, but others. And so I speak up because somebody in the majority has to.
It is suffered by blacks who–even in these modern times–see offensive pickaninny images around the city, including statues and wallpaper, yet get accused of needing therapy for saying this is racist.
I also see people responding to this letter calling the writer “smug” and “arrogant” because of one little thing he included which is inconsequential to the point he’s making. Meanwhile, they ignore–or deny–the actual points. It is an ad hominem argument used to dismiss the whole letter.
I hope the guy who wrote this letter sees the comments and knows that no, we’re NOT all intolerant in this town. That there IS hope. That change can happen. The trouble is there is such a vocal group of people who are intolerant and are blind to their own behavior. Hopefully a small group, but they are loud.
CHANGE CANNOT HAPPEN THROUGH DENIAL.
Everyone has the right to live wherever they wish without experiencing hate, prejudice, bigotry. It is not about special treatment by any means. It is simple, normal, basic human decency which everyone should be able to expect.
The guy arguing with me, and others, also recently rejected the idea that Muslims are being prejudiced against. Not because of it not happening, but because HE THINKS IT’S OKAY TO BE PREJUDICED AGAINST MUSLIMS.
AND IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY. Not on my own behalf, but that of others.
IT MAKES ME ANGRY TO SEE ANYBODY BEING BULLIED AND ABUSED. That includes groups of people: black, yellow, red, brown, white, gay, any religion, whatever.
We need to LISTEN to the stories of people who claim they’re being hurt by prejudice and bigotry. Don’t just dismiss it because you don’t see it yourself.
NOBODY IS CALLING YOU A BIGOT/RACIST/SEXIST/etc. WHEN THEY DISCUSS THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES WITH BIGOTRY. Unless you were in that story, of course. It is a raising of awareness of what happens, to open the eyes of everyone to what is going on, so we all can help stop it.
Many times we don’t notice our own racism until it is pointed out. Over the years people have pointed out things to me which I had no idea were racist; afterwards, I was shocked and ashamed.
This is a human failing common to everyone, so everyone needs to root it out, even when they don’t realize it’s there.
IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for such stories to be shared. Otherwise, it is just swept under the rug, and the victims of prejudice are silenced. Just the same as when victims of other forms of abuse and rape are silenced. It is necessary so we recognize problems in ourselves, and can recognize cases of prejudice that happen in front of us, so we can speak up. Otherwise, the problem simply continues unabated.
I do the exact same thing on my blog all the time. I write about what it is like to have a brain which does not “see” things the same as other people. I write my own experiences with bullying and abuse so others can learn from them and open their eyes.
It does NOT mean that the reader is himself/herself an abuser (except when my bullies/abusers are the ones reading it). In fact, I would be amazed if anybody ever took it that way. Yet somehow, pointing out cases of abuse and bullying has turned some people defensive.
We need to carry out the teachings of Christ, which were to love even the stranger, even the hated Samaritans. Christ’s teachings tell us to love even those who are different from us.
Yet the guy arguing with me, claims to be a “Christian” while violating what that means. And accusing people of not being Christian for saying we need to be loving towards others instead of hateful.
I’m bowing out of arguing with this bigoted creep.