I don’t watch a lot of news – mostly because its no longer news. Its opinions of writers and reporters interlaced with facts about an event. That, ladies and gentlemen, is referred to as “spin.” Sure, go ahead and point your finger at FoxNews, but its no different with CNN or MSNBC. The reason most people don’t point their fingers at those two channels is that the opinions stated there tend to mirror or echo their own. But that’s a major left-turn from where I am headed, so let’s set this back on-track.
I don’t watch a lot of news, but lately I have seen headlines that raise my goose-flesh and make me wonder what the Nine Hells has happened over here in American society. And then shortly after that, I realize its not just American society that is grappling with this issue (still) – its everywhere in the world. I am talking about the extremely uncomfortable aspects of racism. Where the pigmentation of someone’s skin provides enough reason for another person to utilize that as a vehicle for very hateful actions and words to be spent in making that pigmentation an issue.
Ferguson, Missouri. Oklahoma State University. Even this year’s Pantheacon. All racially charged in one way or another. All fairly recent. All garnering large coverage – in the point of Pantheacon, it has been confined to a greater extent to within the Pagan community’s blogs, podcasts, and reviews of the event, but nonetheless there. And while I could easily dismiss each as isolated incidents that are provided transport through the ignorance of a select few, to do so would be a bit rash on my part.
I’m a child of the late 1970s, and early 1980s. Born in October of 1965, I grew up on the trailing edge of a racially charged moment in time. But that’s really the simplistic view of the times. Things were a lot more complicated then, and my parents were very quick to shield me from the ugly parts of that time period. Looking back through History books, I can see where I missed a lot of the conversation during those times. Growing up in United States military communities overseas, also provided me a greater deal of insulation. After all, this was also during the time of the Baader Meinhof Gang, so there were definitely other worries that were far more pressing during those times.
We came back from overseas in the early 1980s, settling at my father’s last military assignment on an Air Force installation just outside Montgomery, Alabama. I didn’t know anything about race issues. My parents were aware enough to decide that the best way to shelter me was to have me enrolled in private schools – Catholic schools to be specific. The minority children that I encountered during my days of high school were from very affluent families. So when I joined the military in the mid-1980s, I was a bit unprepared for the culture shock I experienced there.
It was at my technical training school in Wichita Falls, Texas that I experienced the actual touch of racism. I had made friends with several people in my training class, and wanted to spend time outside of class with them. Everyone was welcome at a Saturday gathering except the black Airman. Not because he had a temper of any sort, or was a jerk…simply because he was black. A few weeks later, I found myself in the same position — being excluded because I was a geek. And I had a bit of an understanding of what had happened. I say it was just a “bit” — because I understood, even then, that similar experiences do not equate to similar or related feelings.
However, watching everything going on in Ferguson, the fervor which people whip up each instance of this – the reverse aspects screaming about “white privilege” — all of it really makes my head spin. I hear what people say about the aspects of “white privilege” and I shake my head. Sure, I’m white. “Privileged” because of my skin color? Sure, maybe. But then, to really understand the correlation, I would have to see how another “white male in his 40s with a background of eight years in the military, securing a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees late in his life” compares. That’s some fairly pointed data points to compare just to get CLOSE in comparison. And even then, the experiences won’t be entirely similar – simply because we would both still process environmental inputs differently, and react differently to those inputs and related experiences. Shit folks, that’s what makes us INDIVIDUALS, capable of experiencing similar events (sometimes the exact same event) and reacting to it differently. We all experienced the events of 9/11 – some to closer degrees than others — and we all reacted differently. We are still reacting differently quite a few years down the line from that event based on related stimuli and experiences that have happened to each of us individually and collectively.
Sure, I get the idea that some people are “privileged” simply because they are white males and will be treated differently in accordance to those factors. But where is that privilege coming from? The people being given that treatment? Or the people giving that treatment?? To be frankly honest, racism doesn’t start until the idea of slavery is brought into the “civilized” world — where pigmentation within the New World determines whether you are “civilized” or “savage”. If “savage”, then its only “natural” that you be subjected to becoming the “property” of the “civilized” individual, who will look after you and insure you stay within the mores of civilized society – while providing services in return.
How do we stop “racism” — how do we “fix” the problem? We treat one another as human beings – without the pigmentation coming into question. We treat people equally – capable of performing the same tasks, provided they put their minds and hearts towards achieving those tasks. We pay them equally, regardless of pigmentation or gender or sexual preference. But all of that means that racism, as a taught manner of institution – passed down primarily through familial and/or peer-group interaction – would need to become an extinct specimen on the Earth. And learned behavior is one of the most difficult changes to make.
I don’t have any answers. Nine Hells folks, I don’t even pretend that my mindset noted above solves anything. It may muddy the playing field for all I know. In the movie “Glory” there’s a very compelling scene between the character’s played by Matthew Broderick and Denzell Washington – shortly after a battle:
Trip: I ain’t fightin’ this war for you, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I see.
Trip: I mean, what’s the point? Ain’t nobody gonna win. It’s just gonna go on and on.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Can’t go on forever.
Trip: Yeah, but ain’t nobody gonna win, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Somebody’s gonna win.
Trip: Who? I mean, you get to go on back to Boston, big house and all that. What about us? What do we get?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Well, you won’t get anything if we lose. So what do you want to do?
Trip: Don’t know, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: It stinks, I suppose.
Trip: Yeah, It stinks bad. And we all covered up in it too. Ain’t nobody clean. Be nice to get clean, though.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: How do we do that?
Trip: We ante up and kick in, sir. But I still don’t want to carry your flag.
For me – this little conversation is a strong indication of fighting for a cause and not realizing what the outcome will be. I watch the protestors for the various issues that happen – such as Ferguson. I see people that hold an anger towards the police, people that feel victimized over the color of their own skin, people that are tired of the double-standard over wages simply because they were not born a male. We can rail against wage differences, be angry about racism, and be angry about issues such as police brutality and racial profiling by law enforcement. Are we sure we have thought out all the consequences of wanting changes to these? The police surveillance and brutality issues are fairly easy to comprehend on long range complications. But what about wage differences? Racism? You can wipe these out with legislation – at least in a legal sense. How do you wipe that out of the generational aspects of families or even within peer groups? Education? Forced enactment of legislation? Most education will get ignored – I have taught enough in the collegiate classroom to recognize when students have checked-out on certain issues. And forced enactment of legislation? In today’s environment, just beneath the surface is a major distrust of the government and any application of legislation into the arena of social mores.
As Trip notes — it stinks bad, and we’re all covered up in it. We all want and have a desire for things to get clean. But I guarantee you, things are going to get a lot dirtier before that happens. Again, I don’t have the answers – I don’t even know how to proceed from this point. But I do know what I – as an individual – can do. Treat people for what they are: people. Pigmentation is not a part of the equation.