I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.
First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.
Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.
How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.