A Generous Dose of Hate

“If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault. You’ve had every opportunity, it was given to you. You’ve had the same schools everybody else went to. You had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have. You had all the advantages and didn’t take advantage of it. It’s not our fault, certainly.”—Kathy Miller, former coordinator for the Donald Trump campaign in Mahoning County, Ohio, this week. She resigned upon being quoted and called her remarks “inappropriate.” (What aspect of the statement qualified it as “inappropriate,” she left a mystery.)

“Look at what’s happening in the world today. The blacks are getting uppity again. I don’t know why, but it’s scary again.”—a personal acquaintance of mine, explaining why he has started carrying a gun again here in Orange County, New York.

Two decades ago, I worked for a weekly newspaper. Even though it was a small-circulation publication, the fact that we ran a “Letters to the Editor” section meant that we received letters. Lots and lots of letters. Our editorial policy was simple: no profanity or personal abuse.

I, a young assistant editor at the time, did not understand this simple policy, because the letters were often awful, hate-filled documents, even when they were free of profanity and free of personal abuse. My boss, the editor of the newspaper, explained that these individuals wanted their thoughts exposed, after all, and we were helping to expose them. “Let them show the world what it looks like,” was her reply to me concerning one letter’s ugly racism. “It is better when they (racists) are out in the open.” Absent profanity, I was not to edit, “clean up,” or not publish the letters.
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Bitter Angels

“I’m glad I found this meeting,” a newcomer said this morning. “I went to one in” (name of nearby city that is big enough to have a dilapidated downtown) “yesterday and I was scared. I thought my car wouldn’t be there when I left.”

He was not speaking with me. I slowed down my already slow pace to hear the rest, and he supplied it: “You know, because I was the only white person there. I assumed it would be broken into or stolen.” I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I am grateful that racism and sexism and the rest of the hate-filled isms still possess the capacity to surprise me when I encounter them; I am furious every time I am exposed to that level of ugly stupidity, that degree of odious and casual hatred. If he had been speaking with me …

Yeah, and what, Mark? What would you have done?, I imagine someone sarcastically asking me. He was not speaking with me, and I went on with my after-meeting chores, but with my ears tuned to our new racist acquaintance, to hear if he had anything else of note to share about his fears. I do not like that I was shocked into a dull complacency, that I did not speak up.
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The Bitter Angels of Our Nature

“I’m glad I found this meeting,” a newcomer said this morning. “I went to one in” (name of nearby city that is big enough to have a dilapidated downtown) “yesterday and I was scared. I thought my car wouldn’t be there when I left.”

He was not speaking with me. I slowed down my already slow pace to hear the rest, and he supplied it: “You know, because I was the only white person there. I assumed it would be broken into or stolen.” I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I am grateful that racism and sexism and the rest of the hate-filled isms still possess the capacity to surprise me when I encounter them; I am furious every time I am exposed to that level of ugly stupidity, that degree of odious and casual hatred. If he had been speaking with me … yeah, and what, Mark? What would you have done?, I imagine someone sarcastically asking me. He was not speaking with me, and I went on with my after-meeting chores, but with my ears tuned to our new racist acquaintance, to hear if he had anything else of note to share about his fears. I do not like that I was shocked into a dull complacency, that I did not speak up.
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The Embrace of Donald Trump’s Hate

This is Donald Trump’s America now. If Trump does not win the nomination, it no longer matters: He has moved the debate into an ugliness that gives cover to almost all bigotry.

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“I’m no racist, but I think the one bunch it’s okay to hate is those Muslims.”

I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I have replayed this moment in my mind every day in the six months since I heard the man, an acquaintance of mine, say this to me. Shocked into complacency, I did not speak up.

An elderly women was beside us. She is the sort of person who looks like the meanest thing she might say in her day is something like, “A dozen cookies! That’s too many! Have another.” She chimed in: “They believe in the devil. They lie when they say they pray to God.” Her eyes flared and she repeated herself. “They know it’s a lie, and they do it anyway.” I excused myself, shocked into a mortified silence, which was an inexcusable silence.

Others were nearby, and no one spoke up. I asked a couple people later about what they heard the man say, and each of them expressed surprise but offered some variation of the excuse, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”

This is Donald Trump’s America. My first-hand report. These voters may not have the opportunity to vote for Trump for President of the United States next November, as he may not win the Republican nomination, but whomever they vote for next year is being shown the blueprint detailing how to win their support. With his status as the front-runner for the Republican nomination and his open espousal of complete racism, his promises of policies of brutality towards American citizens of one religion, Donald Trump has moved the debate into a region where less ugly racism, less obvious brutality, appears acceptable, becomes accepted. It will still be brutal racism. The moment has arrived when we can not shrug it off and say to ourselves, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”
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If You’re Not a Part of the Solution …

The bitter angels of our nature are sometimes easier to hear. Sometimes, the words chosen and spoken by the “better angels of our nature,” the peace-lovers among us, are heard by the bitter angels as bitter. That is insidious.

When President Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address, from which we get the phrase, “better angels of our nature,” there was little he could have said or done that would have averted the Civil War; there was no guarantee the war was going to happen, but enough people were looking for the fight rather than looking for areas of agreement that the war was minutes instead of hours or months away. (Some states wanted to leave—and had already formed a new country—and the remaining states did not want them to leave but did not want them to stay in the Union with slavery as a part of their economy, so there were few areas of agreement.) Once an anti-slavery, pro-Union Republican (a new political party) was elected president, secession began, and war looked ever closer.

Lincoln dedicated his speech to explaining that secession was logically impossible, since a Union is a union, and promising that the federal government would not fire unless fired upon (which happened a couple weeks later, at Fort Sumter).

He concluded his address with an emotionally stirring paragraph, beginning with this plaintive sentence: “I am loath to close.” He did not want to end the speech. It was almost like he believed that, the longer he talked, the longer the Union would remain. But he went ahead and finished with these famous words:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

There was no response from the states that had seceded, official or otherwise, until the attack on Fort Sumter. That was their reply, and then the war was on. Those southern newspapers that deigned to report on the new president’s first speech focused on his “threats” (their word) to preserve the Union and ignored or insulted the concluding sentences. Northern newspapers apparently highlighted the “better angels” passage.

(I have an acquaintance who believes himself to be a Southerner more than an American and refuses to allow pennies in his house, because “that man” is depicted on them. It would be comical, except for it not being funny at all.)

In her book, “Abraham Lincoln the Orator,” a Binghamton University scholar named Lois Einhorn writes about the first inaugural address and the marked difference in reactions to it from North and South:

Selective listening, in effect, means that people hear what they expect and perhaps want to hear. All people listen selectively, hearing only part of any message. In the case of Lincoln’s Inaugural, one could expect a great deal of selective listening because the situation was marked by a high degree of prejudice and because Lincoln had said little to counter these prejudiced views. Many of the editorials evaluating the Inaugural Address support the view that selective listening and selective perception help account for the divergent reactions to the speech. Northern and Southern editorials tended to quote different portions of the speech: Northern editorials usually quoted the speech’s conciliatory peroration, while Southern editorials usually quoted Lincoln’s forceful statements about how he would treat the South.

“Selective listening” is an enormous phrase. I saw it in all its power recently. A friend who was important to me started to express opinions that I found offensive; I struggled to find the words to express my discomfort—this friend was not attacking me personally, after all, so why complain? There must be some reason behind what I felt was ugliness coming from my friend, I thought. I wrote to him, explained that I was not going to attempt to change his opinion, that I did not need an explanation in return nor did I want a debate, but that I simply needed to express my discomfort and for that to be accepted so we could move on to happier conversations. Even if my friend simply expressed discomfort with my discomfort, I would have been fine. (“Agree to disagree,” as they say.)

I hoped my better angels were present. The issue happened to be about social unfairness and race and recent events in the news, an issue I have written about before—in “Guilty of White” —and will again, and my friend responded with a photo of himself with people of color, as if such a thing could even be a response. (I restrained myself and did not write this: “Okay, fine. You have African-American friends. Have you shared with them what I have been reading from you? How well has that been going?”) A joke that I will not reprint followed from my friend; it was at about the same level of emotional maturity as not allowing pennies in one’s house. I have walked away from that friendship, grateful that I learned a lesson, but I am still not certain what that lesson was or is, because this is a friend who tended (tends) to find better angels in almost every circumstance. I was and am confused.

My friend read my expression of discomfort as an attack that needed to be rebuffed; it is sad. Was I selectively hearing his anger as hate? Was he selectively hearing me attacking him? Both at the same time?

There is a line I can not cross just so I can say that I am friends with all sorts of individuals, even intolerant people who insist on being tolerated.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for January 16 asks, “Do you have a good friend or close relative with whom you disagree on a major issue (political, personal, cultural)? What’s the issue, and how do you make the relationship work?”

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Guilty of White

The lottery that I won at 6:37 p.m. on November 18, 1968, was not the product of any hard work on my part. It was not a reward for playing fairly or for especially clean living, nor was it awarded to me for playing by the rules and earning my way.

It was a scratch-off ticket, generated at random, and someone else could have gotten it just as easily as I did. Like the service at a lottery counter in a gas station, life is a first-come, first-served proposition. It was a scratch-off, and, my gosh, did I win a nice jackpot.

If reincarnation existed, one could say that someone else may have deserved this life more than I did or do, and one could certainly argue that someone else might have done a better job with it than I have so far, but it is mine. It is the golden ticket.

The lottery that I won paid off immediately: I am white in a country that treats this minor genetic condition like it is something one diligently worked for and earned. And I am male. I am heterosexual. This world and this country rewards the bearers of those accidental tickets pretty generously, too. When I was a child, my family was middle class in income if not status in a country and at a time when being in the middle of middle-class life in America meant one was living more comfortably than three-fifths of the residents of the rest of the world. And citizens in this country treat that privilege like a victory over immediate enemies rather than the several-generation accumulation of incidents that it is.

Education? Paid for through high school by virtue of being born where I was. By which I do not mean the Spackenkill school district. Nor Poughkeepsie. Not even New York State. Being born in America in 1968 meant an education. (The states were not yet privatizing education or dictating their own local test-versions of education, so I benefited from learning when the dinosaurs existed and the one main reason for the Civil War.) Thanks to my parents, my mom especially, I do not remember the experience of learning how to read or count, because I was taught before my earliest memory (age two and a half) is time-stamped.

Perhaps it is a bit of speculative science fiction to offer the idea that none of these matters are in and of themselves good, righteous, holy, or even earned things. I could have been born in a country that does not privilege the pink pigment of white skin. Or I could have been born in this country but not white. We could have lived in a country where money did not provide some piece of status and “our type” might have been punished at random moments. My mother was born and raised in America, but she had cousins in “the old country” (near Minsk) who were exterminated. They had money.

So I know that I am racist, sexist, whatever-ist. By virtue of being born white, male, and middle class in America in the late 1960s, how could I not be? The day that I walk through (every damn day) is a different day than any woman, black person, gay person—any member of a minority group randomly pre-selected according to these criteria by society—walks through. And the sad, simple fact is that it is a luxury for me to even type that sentence or play with that thought. I do not need to consider what life is like for me, what my day is like, because no power group makes me aware of it.

Oh, sure, it’s society’s rules and some people seem to know how to play by them. “If you don’t commit any crimes, what do you have to worry about?” And that is the thing: I don’t. Simply because I am guilty of white, guilty as charged of male. I am a born member of the power elite, me with my $11,000 annual disability income.

Why does anyone march? Or protest? Or agitate? Or riot, finally? Because if you told me that I had “earned” the genetic anomaly that is taking my legs away, which I did not, not any more than I earned being white or heterosexual, I would attack you with my cane, with every fiber of my being.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 7 asks us to reflect on the word “Protest.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 2, 2016, asks us to reflect on the word “divide.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 4, 2015, asks, “Link to an item in the news you’ve been thinking about lately, and write the op-ed you’d like to see published on the topic.” Today is the 47th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 2, 2014, asks, “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. When was the last time that sentence accurately described your life?”

Visit “Occupy Daily Prompt,” the DP Alternative.