I can't post about food, little moments in life, or travel stories until I write this. This has been weighing heavily on my heart...
If you've ever been a member of the American public education system, you've seen pictures like these. In fact, the majority of us have spent years learning about the movements and wars surrounding pictures like theses. Some of us yawned, just another history class. Some of us were too busy passing notes or texting to really care. Others of us sat and wondered to our young, naive selves, "how could this have ever happened?"
I remember sitting there, even as I began to understand the evils of the world, wondering how something like The Holocaust, the Slave trade, and Jim Crow Laws could have ever happened.
Today, we're seeing photos like this...
The coloring may be more vibrant, the clothes more modern. The torches may no longer be tree branches but don't let any of that fool you. This isn't ancient history.
You see, I've spent my life searching for and reading any book about the Holocaust that I could get my hands on. In truth, I read those first hand accounts because I liked that ultimately, they had been victims, but also survivors. I read them to see who they had become after they survived. But as I read those stories, I also began to understand how a movement of hatred could become so large that it demolished more than half of the European Jewish Population. And here we are. We are living in one of those moments.
You see, the horrific images of starved humans in tattered clothes, piles of shoes, and ditches full of unclothed bodies are the result of moments like what just happened in Charlottesville. Hitler didn't start with concentration camps. Hitler started with gatherings and persuasive speeches. He brought together groups of entitled people, gave them a common enemy, sat back, and rode the wave.
Today, we are standing at the edge of the stormy water, one toe in. The fact that so many entitled people could publicly rally, proudly sporting Nazi armbands and Nazi flags, is deplorable and honestly, really freaking scary. I know, I know, "but the antifa protesters started it...freedom of speech... constitutions.... blah blah blah." Let me cut you off right there and try to simplify it for you.
You're absolutely right. Our Constitution gives us certain rights meant to protect us but it isn't a perfect document and that's okay. What's not okay? The fact that we are using the constitution to protect the privileged only. What's not okay is that we have spent years using the constitution to protect the privileged more than the underprivileged. The people that marched with torches and guns are the privileged and they want to remain that way. Don't let their rhetoric fool you. They were not marching for a statue. They were marching for what that statue stood for - privilege, hatred, and dehumanization. They wave the flags of movements that set out to dehumanize people for political and economical gain. The other group? The people being called the "antifa"... They marched against those ideals. They marched for humanity, freedom, and peace.
Ultimately, were the events in Charlottesville peaceful? No. Did both sides fight? Yes. But one fought for freedom and one fought for hatred, and that should make all the difference.
So here we are, at the edge of the water, wondering what we can do to stop this wave from becoming a tsunami, and in some ways, it's very simple. (Note: I didn't say it was easy, just simple...)
1. We educate ourselves. I've read more Holocaust books than I can count. I have read much less on Slavery and The Civil Rights Movement. That's my next goal. As a white woman, I come from a place of privilege. Hard to put that in writing but it's true. I've spent years reading about the cruel treatment of people in Germany. Now, I need to spend more time educating myself about the victims of hatred here in my own country. Specifically, the narratives of people of color.
2. We acknowledge our privilege, put our pride aside, roll up our sleeves and do the dirty work. It's not easy to express views in this day and age. We have the chance of being attacked or mocked by people we know and care about. But we have to express it now more than ever. So when you hear that racist joke or a story that attempts to dehumanize a fellow human being, you challenge it. You express your opinion to even the people you love the most. They may disagree but at least you have said something. You've made it clear that the hatred of other living breathing people is NOT okay with you.
3. We acknowledge that all humans struggle with bias. We do not beat ourselves up over it but we do acknowledge it and begin the work to challenge our behaviors associated with those innate biases.
4. We join and support the larger movements. We look for the movements that exist to fight inequality and the next time a group rallies for hatred, we show up stronger. We show them that we are the majority and we have had enough, that we are willing to fight for the lives of others.
5. We do not allow this movement to be about statues. The narrative so many people are being fed is that this has to do with a statues from an isolated event that happened 150 years ago. That is a lie. The events of 150 years ago have continued to affect people. Look at segregation. That is in many American's lived history. My own grandparents lived through that. The statues that were erected are symbols of oppression of large numbers of people. The sole purpose of statues of people throughout history is to commemorate their accomplishments. There is no place for that anymore. Trust me, we can still remember our history. We are not trying to erase it. What we are trying to do is topple the symbols of oppression in the hope that it gets enough people talking. I hope that, in turn, we can erect monuments that honor the victims of this history instead.
Ultimately though, we cannot stay silent anymore. As a teacher, that's so hard to do. We're drilled not to speak publicly about our political beliefs but for me, this has gone beyond politics. The events that happened a 3 hour drive away from where I sit right now, affects all my kids. It upsets my LGBTQ kids. It makes my Hispanic students fearful. It angers and frightens my students of color. And it grants permission to my privileged kids to say and do things I know they wouldn't normally do.
The hatred of difference (think about all those "isms") is a learned behavior. So I leave you with this...What are we going to teach our kids? That systematic hatred for underprivileged people has a place here in the United States of America? Or that the good people of America want to break the cycle and are willing to take the steps to do that?