In looking for an analogy for today’s topic, Rabies appears appropriate. Rabies is exceptionally rare, between 2003 and 2013 thirty four cases were diagnosed in the United States, and although three cases are listed as “survived,” I suspect the diagnosis in those cases, as there is no cure. Even though the rate of human infection is .00001 percent of the population, every pet is required to be vaccinated against Rabies, because the issue is not prevalence, it is mortality. I have been vaccinated against rabies after contact with rabid animals (twice) and as you can see I did not contract the disease. Had the virus taken hold in my system I would not be here, thankfully the vaccine regimen is much more simple than it was in my childhood; a series of four injections intramuscularly (deltoid) and one dose of Human Rabies Immune Globulin near the site of exposure rather than fourteen injections in the abdomen (a friend from Cuba had fourteen injections into his lungs).
My topic today is another “R” word, “Racism,” as expressed by a rag tag mob calling themselves “White Supremacists,” as well as a large number of people who consider anything with a scent of racism the work of White Supremacists, NAZIs, or the KKK.
This weekend has seen a couple of events staged by White Supremacists. An event in Charlottesville Virginia drew hundreds of them from all over the country, and thousands of counter protestors. There is no question as to which side is larger, for some reason the counter protestors express fear, giving the minuscule number of White Supremacists the power of intimidation. There have been counter protests in cities across the nation, proving to everyone the racists are outnumbered. In the analogy of Rabies, racism is skin redness, identifying as a Racist of any stripe is viral infection. It is rare but deadly. The victim is the soul.
There have been three fatalities reported, a woman struck by a car and two police officers in a helicopter that crashed. The wounded number far more, as any display of hate creates more hate. The kettle of hate is overflowing, as the present first lady echoes the last in saying “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate without hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence” more hateful hearts were busy accusing her of plagiarism than accepting the message of peace. The word “racist” is losing any meaning, as it is thrown around so freely to include “anyone who doesn’t agree with me.” There were actual racists in Charlottesville, free to express their “pride” under the cover of a population that has been called racist for the crime of being white in the South. In fact, slavery and racism are more likely to be encountered in the North, where foriegn nationals are commonly “kept” as housekeepers and treated as sub-human. Human trafficking is a fact in every state, and every country in the world; it is not limited to people of color.
Addressing the 1968 race riots in Baltimore Maryland, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had signed the civil rights act into law just four years earlier, said “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.” Blow-back from centuries of racism should be expected, and tensions do not disappear overnight. Racism is a human trait, tied to the evolutionary tool of Xenophobia. Human. I am as different from you as you are from me.
President Trump was criticized for saying there are many hate groups, Lady Gaga was criticized for trying to turn down the hate. The criticisms of both echoed hate rather than a desire to end hate. A shouting match has never ended in a peaceful resolution, no one has ever calmed down after being told to. This is what disturbs me. I feel we were closer to calming racial tensions in the 70s than we are now. Civility in social interactions is as likely to be seen as a Dodo delivering the morning paper.
It is as natural for people of color to distrust whites as it is for whites to distrust people of color. Neither side is “right.” Fighting creates wounds, which memorialize the pain, keeping the distrust alive. Both sides need to stop, and overwhelmingly they have. Pockets of hate, be they NAZI, KKK, BLM, or Antifa, are only pockets and do not represent society as a whole. Saying they do insults the people who are not part of those gangs, and ends meaningful conversation with them.
We have arrived at a time when words are weapons. Choose yours wisely and help stop the hate. Uhura said that in her century we will learn not to fear words.
To do so, we need not only to know who we are, but take satisfaction in who we are. To accomplish that, we need to extend the same courtesy to everyone else. It starts with me. Now it’s your turn.