endfamilyseparation

  • 91
19 Aug 20
328 Swanston Street, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

My Uncle Roy was a terribly racist person as was much of my family growing up.  My first encounter with him was an altogether shocking experience as a 12 years old, even though I had been around blatantly racist family members before.  I can remember hearing him say the n word at a pace of every third to fourth word and finding myself somewhere between disgust and amazement that someone that I was related to could actually be that racist.  

My family often tried to convince me that he was a good person.  "He grew up that way" was the excuse for such blatantly racist diatribes.  I never accepted it or him.  You may love your family.  You may be kind to certain folks in your orbit,  But if you have hate in your heart, than being a good person is out of reach.  If so much of your ego is wrapped up in your white identity within a white supremacist worldview, than no, I don't believe you are a good person.  

Good people don't dehumanize others for any reason and certainly not for their race.  I think at this point most of us accept this maxim.  

 ---

But of course it wasn't always that way.  Slaveholding gentry certainly had a high opinion of themselves and their place in the world.  Many of the founding fathers owned other human beings and we still accept the other qualities that made them great leaders.  Such leadership though didn't mean they were good people.  Owning another human being disqualifies you from that status, even within the historical context in which they lived.  In 1779, Jefferson wrote a plan to end slavery in Virginia and yet he held on to a couple hundred slaves until his dying day.  Washington made sure his slaves were freed upon the deaths of himself and his wife.  Franklin was one the earliest anti-slavery activists.  People generally know deep down when something is wrong, 

White Citizens Councils and the KKK who enforced Jim Crow had folks that fancied themselves to be good, upstanding people and community members.  But of course if you are engaging in blatantly discrimination, intimidation, and murder often in the form of lynching, than you are not a good person.  Deep down, you know better.  And if you don't, your ego must be be so  deeply embedded in your white identity that you have absolute blinders on to the humanity of African Americans.  Unlike Trump's comments about Charlottesville last summer, there aren't good people amongst the KKK and Neo-Nazis.

---

After Trump's election, I vowed to engage white folks who voted for him to better understand what their concerns are and to build bridges to hopefully.  These last couple of weeks have been eye opening in this pursuit.  As I go back with conservative friends and trolls on social media, they have defended Trump's cruel and inhumane practice of ripping children from their parents through various forms of argumentation. 

Some want to deflect by blaming Clinton and Obama for forcing Trump's hand in his cruel practices. Never mind that Jeff Sessions and the President both said themselves that was a new practice and policy.   

Others wanted to blame the parents for coming here and breaking the law (the Jeff Sessions legal argument).  Never mind that seeking asylum is not a crime and you need not be at point of entry to claim asylum,   Never mind that the first entry into the US is a misdemeanor offense.

Others defended the intent of the policy and thereby demonstrated the very worst in racism and xenophobia. 

In all of these arguments, I made the case that if you are fighting to rip children from their parents than it is clear that you and I don't share the same values.  I slowly have come around to  the realization that some of these folks aren't good people simply put. Trump is both a manifestation and instigator of racists throughout the country. In these cases there's nothing more to say than say, "You aren't a good person.  Good people don't support policies intended to undermine and strip the humanity and dignity of other classes or groups.  I implore you to dig deeper."  I then take my leave.

Uncle Roy would have voted for Trump, if he voted at all.  He certainly wouldn't feel out of place any longer in Trump's America. Uncle Roy wasn't a good person.  The folks out here defending ripping children from parents for crossing a line in the dirt aren't good people either. 

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. was borrowed from Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, prominent American Transcendentalist, and early abolitionist preacher.  The quote is:

The Arc of the Moral Universe bends towards justice.  

This quote is a fundamental tenet to progressive thinking in the United States.  it creates an escape for America's injustices.  Yes, there was slavery and Jim Crow, but we slowly eliminated the slave trade, then slavery itself, then Jim Crow and legal discrimination, and then we had a black President.  Whether its racial justice or the trajectory of liberation struggles amongst women and LGBTQIA, there has been progress so we can buy in to a world  where the long arc eventually bend towards justice. 

Except when it doesn't.  This maxim, in which we all live by, doesn't happen by itself. This week we heard that not only is ICE separating parents from their children.  Think about the complete denial of humanity it takes to rip a crying child from the arms of a loving parent whose only crime was crossing a border seeking a better life for that child.  Think about then separating them and detaining children in what amounts to a prison, a child who has committed no crime.   

And the problem is not just ICE officers, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump denying the humanity of these families.  Indeed, we hear these same efforts at dehumanization in many of the conversations we have with family members and friends who are Trump supporters choosing xenophobia and racism over humanity and in many cases, their own economic self-interest. Below are recent conversations I had around immigrants and refugees with these folks.  I share only my replies as an example of how far dehumanizing others can go:

"...Beyond the clear xenophobia in this social media post, what you said is factually untrue. Immigrants are not drains to the economy, but a key part of growing the economy. Immigrants pay taxes and are net gains to the economy."

"...You clearly haven’t done your homework here, choosing xenophobia over facts. You are choosing xenophobia and racism over what’s actually true. It doesn’t say anything about me or Democrats, but it says a lot about you.  You sound uneducated and I believe you are better than such displays of xenophobia."

"...I think your legal argument doesn’t hold up. There weren’t really any immigration laws in place when most Europeans came to the Americas. There were significant illegal and immoral actions confiscating the land from Native Americans. The US has always taken in refugees fleeing economic, political, and religious persecution."

We see these forms of denying the humanity of folks on the other side of a border in places all over the world.  Just two weeks ago, Israel fired on unarmed civilians in Gaza as Ivanka Trump and Jarred Kushner opened up the US embassy in Jerusalem.  The world looked on in horror, but not all.  I still find it shocking that some of my most progressive Israeli and American Jewish friends can be so clear-minded about issues of justice in every context except that of Israel-Palestine.  Here's what I found myself saying to Israelis:

"..You are defending the murder of unarmed civilians. Have you denied the humanity of your brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall so much that you can justify the shooting of unarmed men women and children?  The civilians were protesting, not human shields for an attack. Everyone was unarmed. There have been no claims by either side that the Gazans were armed. Unarmed civilians were shot."

"...Unarmed civilians protesting, children and mothers, all qualify as innocent to me. You all are suggesting that the only way to handle the situation is through completely disproportionate use of force. No one except the most rabid right wingers and those who no longer see the humanity of Palestinians in America and Israel support such a point of view."

"...Why are Israelis embracingTrump, even though the rest of the world and most of his citizens despise Trump for so many reasons not the least of which calling Neo-Nazis good people and associating with evangelical pastors who preach hate against Muslims and Jews?

"...Talk about over the top propagandizing. No Israeli was under any immediate threat of harm. Therefore shooting live ammunition at unarmed civilians was not okay. You think it is because you have a whole narrative about what could have happened, even though Gazans have been protesting for weeks with none of that in fact happening. We haven’t even discussed the deplorable conditions of Gaza to which in part folks are protesting...the actual merits of the case. You have made it clear are you are ok killing unarmed civilians even when under no immediate threat. If that’s ok with you than you clearly have dehumanized the other side. You lose a piece of yourself and your goodness in that process. I would encourage deeper reflection."

In 2018, you have to say to otherwise well meaning people that shooting an unarmed protestor is not okay.  Trump in American and indeed the rise of right wing demagogues globally demonstrates, that progress is not inevitable.   As we see our country regress as our institutions and basic norms are attacked, we now understand that we can regress.  Indeed the arc of the universe bending towards justice rings hollow to the young woman shot by border patrol on the US border or the Palestinian young person who went to protest unjust living conditions to find themselves dead by the work of a sniper.  It seems meaningless in the face of the 1500 children that the US government has lost. 

The maxim is in fact not true.  But if I may, I would add a clause to make this most hopeful of quotes from our history be true.

The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends Towards Justice, If You Make it So.

Have we done our part to pull that arc in the direction of justice?  What can we do today, this week, and every day to make a more just world so?  Have you called out those who dehumanize others?  These aren't political arguments because denying someone else's humanity is beyond politics.  This is a moral duty to see and defend the humanity of those who are subject to people who attempt to strip their humanity from them.  Engage. Challenge. In Trump's America, we can't normalize hateful words and actions.  We have to resist going backwards.  A more just world, a more perfect union, is possible, but we must work together to make it so.  

We The People Logo

Close