Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Send in the Drones

There have been several more killings of black people by police since the police murder of George Floyd, and I think the only reasonable conclusion is that these attacks are displays of defiance.  The police are letting us all know that criticism just makes them madder: they will continue to execute black Americans.

I've been seeing more online complaints from people who have police officers in their lives - spouses, partners, family members - who, they say, are good people sincerely dedicated to serving and protecting all citizens.  They may well be telling the truth, but if so they're talking to the wrong people. They should be angry at the supposed bad apples, the insular, violent police culture that kills without feeling anything.  Their loved ones in uniform should also be speaking out, though admittedly that would be more dangerous for them.  As bad as stereotyping is, killing innocent people -- declaring oneself the judge, jury and executioner -- is much worse, a deadly serious problem that Americans have known about for a long time but not tried to correct.

The same is probably true of the lesser racist incidents that we're hearing about.  The people who are behaving like this know what they're doing, they know it will be widely disapproved, but they do it anyway.  Remember when Ben Carson got in trouble for comparing homosexuality to bestiality and child molestation: I noticed then that bigots always get in trouble for saying such things, but they keep on saying them.  I suggested that it may be some strange compulsion, but I think it's also entitlement.

A day ago, someone posted this on a local Facebook group, including a pretty picture of a lake surrounded by mountains for some reason:
After reading some exchanges between people I knew from my hometown a long time ago, I struggled with how to respond. Then I also saw positive signs, and this came to me:

During these times of uncertainty, conflict, and diverging perspectives, a heartfelt Thank You:
To those who are listening more than talking (or shouting).
To those who acknowledge with peace that there are perspectives other than our own.
To those who understand that history cannot be changed,
and to those who understand that history must be reckoned with,
and that history is much more about people than it is about dates.
To those who can disagree without denigrating or dehumanizing those with whom we disagree.
To those who understand that strength is not always found in force or violence.
To those who can begin a sentence with, “I could be wrong…” and mean it.
To those on “the left” who seek common ground with those on “the right” for a greater good, and to those on “the right” who still see the humanity in those on “the left” for a greater good. And vice versa.
To those whose minds are open enough to understand that there is more than one side to the story on CNN, FOX, NBC, OANN and of course, Facebook or Twitter… as well as what our friend told us.
Thank you
To those who are being intentionally kind and positive, because we’ve seen those who have become hardened in their negativity toward others.
To those who are being kind to those who have become hardened… because they need it, too.
To those who believe that Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, because we recognize they do not have to be exclusive statements; that they (WE) are intertwined more than we might understand, and that each has the right to raise their sign and be heard.
And Thank You to those who believe in causes that lift up the Humanity in all of us.
And to those who continue to offer the best of ourselves, because right now we need our Best Selves.
Peace and Grace to all, including those who may disagree…
This is very well-intentioned.  My first response was that I appreciated it, and I could be wrong, but I sometimes think that "seeking common ground" is a problematic idea. Both-sidesing Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and Blue Lives matter is problematic because All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter aren't meant to find common ground but to deny it.  And I could be wrong, but I think I'm just looking at a version of what Ellen Willis mocked forty years ago: "The male chauvinist bias is that women are inferior to men.  The feminist bias is that women are equal to men.  The unbiased view is that the truth lies somewhere in between."

"Common ground" is a tactic of the lazy. Too much ground has been ceded to racists and other bigots all along. "Oh, that's just how he was raised." "She didn't mean any harm." "He doesn't see himself as a racist, that's so harsh." "You don't want to sink to their level." And so on. The result has been that half a century after I graduated from high school, we have an open white supremacist in the White House. Racists and other bigots aren't interested in finding common ground except with each other.

Bigotry doesn't "lift up the Humanity in all of us," and I know this poster didn't mean to imply that it does; but they need to remember that we're dealing with attitudes that deny the humanity of all of us. We've let them go unchallenged for far too long. I never forget the humanity of bigots, and that is why I won't let them get away with it. Bigotry is a lifestyle choice; you're not born that way; you can change. Change is often difficult and painful, and well-meaning platitudes will only delay it.

That was the easy part.  But on reflection it's even clearer to me that I, at least, am addressing two different tasks.  One is engaging with people whose views I disagree with in varying degrees, from disputing facts to distaste to outright enmity.  I am capable of great patience with someone who wants me to explain why I don't agree with them, and over the years I've put a lot of effort into listening to opponents and trying to keep the emotional temperature low.  I don't always succeed, but then neither do they.  One difficulty, of course, is that so many people don't know how to have a serious, reasoned discussion.  As I've noticed often before, they believe that simply declaring their opinion is as far as a discussion can go, when it's really only the beginning.  They tend to get upset when someone rebuts them, because real discussion is beyond their comprehension.  I do my best to help them learn, though.

But when someone says, as someone did in the same group yesterday but in a different thread, "Who cares about the niggers anyway?" -- then I see no point in worrying about their feelings, seeking common ground, trying to see things from their perspective, being kind and generous.  That person is old enough to know what they are saying, and if they still think that racism is acceptable or cool, it's unlikely that any amount of considerate explanation will change their mind.  If such a person wants to have a discussion, I'm willing to give it a try, but they almost never do.  The first thing I want them to know in the meantime is that I will not tolerate bigotry, I will not pretend to respect them or their views, I will shun them if I can and urge everyone else to do so.

I admit that this isn't satisfactory.  Since 2015 we've known that millions of Americans have been seething for decades over the official liberal rejection of racism, and they welcomed the rise of Donald Trump as a license to let their bigotry run free.  Just telling them they're wrong, they're bad, and shunning them will not change their minds.  There has been a hope that bigotry is generational, and that as older generations die off, so will bigotry.  First, I doubt it - my racist peers are of the younger 60s generation that we hoped would leave racism behind. Second, we can't wait.  If someone is beating a child, you don't hold off and hope that the assailant will change over time; you stop the assault.  It's not unfair, after you've removed the victim to safety, to ask the assailant what they thought they were doing.  Dialogue can happen only after the power to harm has been taken from them.

But another factor that must also be addressed is the nice, superficially reasonable person who tries to deny or minimize bigotry, like nice, liberal, but insane Michael Kinsley, who tried to paper over Ben Carson's bigotry; or nice, sensible, but craven Wes Alwan, who defended Alec Baldwin's homophobic raving; or the godly white moderates who urged Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement to wait a few centuries until racism withered away by itself.  Such people are part of the problem.  They are more concerned with protecting bigots than the targets of bigotry, and they should be called out and challenged, even attacked (verbally) no less than the Ben Carsons, the Alec Baldwins, the White Citizens Councils they serve and protect.