This blog is not a political platform to put forward anyone’s agenda. However, I cannot and will not remain silent when what our country stands for is being attacked. The purpose of the following article is not to insight fear, hatred, pride or any other emotion. Rather, it’s purpose is to try and help people to rethink what their base emotions are telling them and to act in a rational and helpful manner.
We, the citizens of the United States, have once again found ourselves embroiled in a fight over our national identity. This time, however, the enemy is homegrown and attacking from within. Not that this nemesis hasn’t always been there, we have just chosen in the recent past to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. The enemy I speak of isn’t any certain belief system or organization, it is more basic than that. Our arch nemesis as a society is fear.
It is time for people of good conscious everywhere in our great country to speak up about how they feel about how fear has brought hate and injustice to blight our land. I have taken a vow to be silent no longer about the stigma and injustice against the mentally challenged, I will also not keep silent on how I stand on this issue either.
I lived the majority of the first nine years of my life in Millington Tennessee. Gratefully, by the time I attended grade school, the segregation of schools had ended, but I still remember the atmosphere of fear that many people of color felt there. We lived in a neighborhood made up mostly of military personnel, and there was a noticeable lack of black people in our community. In fact, people of color knew, I do not know how, that they were not welcome in Millington after dark, and could only be present during the day if they had official business to conduct there. Our garbage collectors, for instance, were permitted but only so long as they were picking up trash. We lived there during the time when Martin Luther King, Junior was assassinated. Millington is located only a few miles from Memphis and the fear in the air was palpable. Even at my tender young age I knew the times were serious and to stay indoors with my mouth shut.
During our time in Millington my mother was going down a dark highway one rainy night when she spotted a black woman lying on the side of the road. She stopped and helped her to our car and drove her to the closest emergency room that would accept black people. Once my mother had helped the woman into the hospital she was told by the staff there to leave immediately and speak to no one of what she had done for fear she would become a victim of the Ku Klux Klan. My mother did as she was told. Several weeks later, a knock sounded at our door and when my mother opened it there stood four black women, including the woman she had delivered to the hospital. As it turns out, the woman’s name was Gussy and she had suffered a heart attack that rainy night, and had been attempting to walk to the hospital when she passed out on the roadside. Had it not been for the actions of my mother Gussy would have died. Her family consisted of many daughters and out of gratitude to my mother they began to show up at regular intervals to clean our home and do whatever needed to be done about the yard and house.
This African-American family became my first and most important exposure to the realities of the culture of fear some folks live under in the United States. I remember one important life lessons Gussy taught my little brother Jim and myself. One day she was cleaning the stove while my brother and I were eating lunch. My brother, who was no more than four at the time, looked at her in his innocence and asked a deeply troubling question of her.
“Gussy, is you a nigger?”
Gussy never missed a stroke as she continued to scrub the stove.
“Jimmy, there is white niggers and there is black niggers. You is a white boy and I is a black woman.”
I know using the N word offends many, but hopefully in the context I have used it that it will be acceptable. I meant no harm nor degradation in its use whatsoever.
It was from my exposure to Gussy and her many family members that I first began to wonder about the things that I was being told by other children and some adults in my life. I had been told that white people were superior and should rule the United States because all people who were not white were unable to control themselves and were morally inferior. After meeting Gussy and her beautiful family, I began to question the thing being said in the 1960s about non-white Americans.
Although we moved away from Millington in 1967, and I have often wondered what became of that amazing American family.
The life lessons Gussy and her family taught me have stuck in my mind all these years and have shaped how I see other people. As a thinking adult, I understand that humans aren’t born hating or despising others, we must be taught this behavior. I also understand that people always fear what they do not understand, especially if someone believes radically differently from what you have been taught all your life. However, when this fear is translated into violence against others, that is when it becomes morally and ethically wrong. I agree, people should have the right to believe what they want, even if it is not acceptable to myself, however I nor anyone else has the right to force others to believe what I do.
How do I stand on the violence that has arisen in the past week? I weep because of it. I found myself in tears while watching the news broadcast of the hate rallies in Charlottesville. I wasn’t crying because I was shocked by man’s inhumanity to man, rather I was weeping because I could see what our nation is facing. We are experiencing major growing-pains. For us to be a great nation, we must face our demons head-on, and let’s face it, isms against people of any sort have been a horrible blight on our country since its inception. There are folks who have strong emotions about what is moral and what is not, I understand that. They believe that homosexuality, being Jewish or Catholic, or being anything but white protestant and straight are horrible crimes against humanity and a danger to American society, but why? Why must all humanity fit into one little mold and into one mindset? The answer comes straight back around to my original premise, fear.
Fear is a great motivator of mankind. It has served us well to survive as a species. We once were totally dependent on our ability to recognize our clan and to fit into their belief system. Our ability to be accepted into our clan insured our survival and that of our families. When we encountered other clans, who believed or acted differently we reacted in fear, believing that only our clan held the answers to life’s conundrums. Thus, we fought others to gain food sources and living space, feeling it must be alright because, we reasoned, our clan was far superior and had the right to rule and subjugate others. It is understandable, therefore, that some of these evolutionarily instincts are still in our makeup as humanity, but they are no longer needed nor required in our world today. In 2017, we have become a global community, trading goods and labor across the globe with the result of tremendous advancements in technology and science. The sky is the limit as to the ability of humans to improve ourselves, but only if we can lay aside our most base emotional fear-centered thoughts and work together as one race, the human race.
We as a nation must begin to stand up as adults and stop behaving like little children who didn’t get our way on the playground. Forcing others by any type of intimidation is something a bully on a playground would do. If you truly believe something, then for heaven’s sake use the same legal and moral means as everyone else to get across your thoughts. Civilized adults do not shout hate slogans, use intimidation and certainly do not ever use violence to get what they want. We are all grown-ups here, let’s act like it.
When I was in school as a child, I was taught that the United States was called the melting pot of the world because so many people from around the world have immigrated here to find a new life. Let’s face it folks, the only people who can claim this land as theirs from the beginning are the ones who were here before people from Europe set foot here and began to wipe them out, the native Americans. The rest of us are newcomers. No matter what color you are or culture you claim, we are ALL immigrants. Fearing what immigrants can bring to this country is fearing ourselves.
The United States is made up of many cultures, religions, colors, and beliefs. Let us pull together and celebrate this fact. Let us set aside our fears and differences and work together for the common good. If you feel strongly against someone who is different than yourself, I would ask that you at least attempt to open your mind to a way of living that has served many well:
AGREE TO DISAGREE
As adults must do this to get along, and doing things that are to the contrary, such as using violence and intimidation, are becoming more and more unacceptable in today’s world, and so they should.
You want to make America great and keep it that way, then draw on all the strengths of our citizens and stop trying to play the blame game. No one group of people in this country is responsible for the times we find ourselves in. Instead of blaming others let’s shore up our limping self-esteems. Banding together and using the talents and strengths of all our citizens, we can build a stronger and safer country for ourselves and our children. We don’t have to live in a hate filled mindset to accomplish this greatness, rather we need to accept each other’s differences. None of us are getting out of life alive, so why waste time bickering and harming one another, why not spend the few years we have on this planet concentrating on the greater good. It is my belief that humanity can think and love its way out of the corner we have put ourselves into and that we can end the danger of nuclear annihilation, but first the change must start at home in each of our own hearts.
As a person with a severe mental disability I have a unique perspective on how man can be inhumane to itself, and how humanity can be kind and considerate of each other. I’ve met many persons who consider me to be unreliable and even dangerous, not because of anything I have done but because of lack of understanding of the mental illness I have lived with all my life. I have chosen not to hate those who do not understand and fear me, but rather to try to understand their points of view and to give them the knowledge they need to think and decide for themselves whether or not the views they have held of myself and others who live with mental challenges are true. I’m aware that like any information offered to the public, people must be willing to hear what is being said and have the strength to think for themselves and to weigh my words. There will always be those who will not do this, and as person and a society we must be ready for this unavoidable truth.
How will history judge the United States of the 2000s? Won’t it be not by only how we struggled to get the truth out into the public domain but also by how we treat those who oppose this freedom? The United States has long been thought by the rest of the world to be a beacon of light and hope. Why not use love and understanding of one another, beginning in our own backyards, to prove this as a fundamental truth.
It is time for the men and women of the United States to take a hard look at our value systems and to discard anything that is harmful and unnecessary to the growth of our country. To rid ourselves as a society of those values that simply are no longer needed, we must first each take a hard and honest look at ourselves. Does what I believe help or harm humanity? Have I been lied to or am I believing a lie that I am telling myself, just to build myself up? What is the truth? These are extremely painful questions and require a lot of courage, indeed a great deal more courage than hurling insults at people we may consider to be inferior to ourselves. After we have burned away the chaff of those things that are harmful we will be left with clarity of thought.
It is my humble belief that underneath all the crap we have forced ourselves to believe, we will find that all humans are alike, no matter our color, whom we love, where we live, or what god we pray to.
As the late great American, President John F. Kennedy once stated,
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
John F. Kennedy