Monday, June 8, 2020

Time's Up!

Someone posted it yesterday somewhere on social media, I don't remember whether it was Facebook or Twitter:  "You can't change people's minds overnight."

It's the first time I've heard it in a long while. The last time I remember must have been around twenty years ago, when it kept cropping up on a diversity program on the community radio station.  The host was a liberal white professor of sociology, I think, and the guest was a minister from a nearby city that has a bad reputation for racism.  (Bloomington, Indiana, where the radio station is located, has a better reputation for not being racist than it deserves, because of the university.)  This would have been before all the station's programs were digitized and archived online, so I doubt it's accessible, but I made some notes on the episode at the time for a letter I never sent, which I was able to find on my old computer the other day.  (Or did I send it?  I'm honestly not sure.  If I did, I didn't get a reply.)

There had been another incident in a long series recently, where fans and possibly players of the high school basketball team had yelled racist abuse at players of a visiting team. The host and the minister clucked indignantly that people shouldn't stereotype a whole town over such things.  The minister insisted that many black people lived contentedly in the city, and reported that his daughter had met a young black man at college who assumed she was racist when he found out where she was from.  That was bad, though I wished I had a version of the story from a more reliable source.  And they repeated, several times: You can't change people's minds overnight.

I began to feel I'd gone through the looking glass: was this an anti-racist program, or a racist-apologetics program?  Our neighbor city has been lamenting its racist reputation for decades, usually when another unfortunate incident occurs.  But the funny thing is that "You can't change people's minds overnight" assumes that the people in question are racist.  I kept waiting for the diversity-educator host to ask how long the night could be allowed to last, but no dice.  They spent the whole segment congratulating each other on how enlightened and reasonable they were.

I'd already noticed in the 90s that forty years after Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thirty years after the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, thirty years after the eruption of Second Wave feminism, twenty-five years after the Stonewall riots, the lessons they should have taught had not been learned by large numbers of people, including significant numbers of the people who run our government at all levels.  Some version of "You can't change people's minds overnight" has been an ongoing refrain throughout those decades.  And I thought I was good at procrastinating.  It's been one hell of a long night.

And you see, here we are.  Various people from the very small town where I went to high school were fuming about anarchists and rioters and looters in the pay of Soros coming there, and they'd be ready to defend their property with their Second Amendment rights.  I remember hearing this crap before, in the 60s.  After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, my mother was afraid that Negroes were going to flood into our rural area from Chicago (a hundred miles away) or South Bend (25 miles away) and burn it to the ground, and she wasn't the only one in our very white area.  It probably was spread on the radio by right-wing commentators.  Fifty-odd years later, the same bigotry is alive and well, all the more furiously resentful because it was partially stifled for a few years in the 1960s.

(I just remembered that northern Indiana is very Roman Catholic, and I wonder how many of the parents of my peers grew up listening to the pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic Catholic priest Father Coughlin in the 30s.  I wonder if my mother did.  Coughlin was based near Detroit, close to where I grew up.  He had forty million listeners around the country before he stopped broadcasting in 1940, and continued to publish Nazi propaganda until he was shut down by the Feds in 1942.  It seems likely that he had fans in South Bend - home of Notre Dame University - and my hometown.  I should ask around on Facebook.)

Maybe twenty years ago I decided that my motto for the future would be No Safe Space for Bigotry.  Now I want to update it: Time's Up.  White racists have had a very long time to get over their refusal to share the world with non-white people; male supremacists ditto with regard to women; antigay bigots with gay people; and so on.  They don't get to delay any longer.  Time's up.  When your racist aunt or uncle or grandpa or grandma starts to attack the blacks, just say No.