It’s true that as we get older, a melancholy can set in when we are faced with the loss of family and friends as well as our own diminishing physical or mental vitality. Add to this the current socio-political climate of hate and violence, and it’s hard to feel happy about life in these un-United States.
Each day that I see news coverage of another mass shooting in this country adds to a sense of growing collective grief. Whenever I have watched historical film footage of the WWII Blitz in England with its haunting warning siren, I struggle to imagine how the British people felt as they crouched in darkened ruins, knowing that the Nazi bombs were again approaching.
I’ve detected the same dreadful fear in photographs of crying Vietnamese children with their hands raised in surrender, or people cowering in the crumbling streets of Middle Eastern villages nervously awaiting the next attack. This was wartime, you might say, and that is the cost of war.
Then how to explain the seemingly endless assaults on innocent people enjoying a community festival in Gilroy, or shopping at Walmart in El Paso, or socializing at a club in Dayton? These are only the most recent slaughters. Those images of people crying hysterically over bodies on the ground spark a similar terror – never knowing when bullets will kill someone I know, my friends, my child, me. This is another kind of Blitz, but who is attacking us?
Sadly, we are attacking ourselves.
These shooters are not foreign enemies. They are American citizens. Why are they so angry? More pointedly, what are they afraid of? Social media posts from some of the assailants have targeted minorities as justification for their vicious assaults.
One definition of racism comes from the New Oxford American Dictionary: “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
I believe each person’s perspective on any issue is formed by his/her personal experience. If you’ve never had a friend or at least a positive interaction with someone from another race, ethnicity, culture, or religion, it’s easier to think of them as the evil other and blame them for your problems: lost jobs, lack of housing, crime… fill in the blank.
My perspective on race and ethnicity has been formed from having an Anglo father and a Latina mother. When I’m with my fair skinned, blue-eyed Anglo family members, I’m the only one with brown hair and brown eyes. When I’m with my Mexican American family, I look white – la güera. I can pass for Anglo, so Latinos are surprised when I speak my intermediate Spanish. Where does that leave me in the current conflict about racism in America? Which side do I come down on? Should I even have to choose? I will say this – I have never been called names or otherwise condemned by Latinos for being half-white. I have, however, been trashed as a “beaner” by a white person.
I was raised in the San Joaquin Valley among my mother’s family, 12 aunts and uncles who worked in the fields and packing houses, and more cousins than I can count. We were economically modest but rich in family togetherness. A few of my generation and fewer younger familia are now interested in programs and politics that assist the less privileged including immigrants such as our grandparents. However, many of my Mexican family members are quite conservative with seemingly little or no connection to the current Latino immigrant community – history forgotten by the third generation.
Conversely, following the white vs. minority divide, I might anticipate rejection from my paternal cousins in the South, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. I did read one family member’s Facebook post denouncing all of California as un-American. So you can imagine my surprise when another Arkansas cousin invited me to join Lo-Pro, the Lonely Progressive, a very active Southern liberal online group. I find myself at home among their viewpoints, which are quite different from the Cali haters.
What I have learned from these contradictions within my own family is that we cannot presume to know a person’s viewpoint based on race or geography. Those who denounce an entire group of people based on a vague, general prejudice need to get out of their comfort zone, widen their experiences, and meet people who are different from them.
Traveling to other countries reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Exposure to others’ culture, language, and people can be a very effective reality check. If travel is not possible, look around at the diversity in our own community and reach out. We will be richer for it and, hopefully, more peaceful.
Superiority of one human being over another is not a concept I believe in whether the criterion is wealth, position, race, religion, language, whatever. These are artificial hierarchies that manipulative mortals create to bolster themselves. Black, white, or brown, rich or poor, here is the great equalizer: our lives are brief.
We shouldn’t waste our short time on earth destroying each other over meaningless differences. The debate on gun control is for others who are more knowledgeable. The debate on racism is one close to my heart.