Living in the Dystopia: When Fools Dare to Speak

king and heschel

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

“Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.”

Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)

Every time you speak to someone you have the power to choose words that will strengthen, lift up, energize, elevate, inspire, encourage, enlighten, support, benefit, and help your listener in some way.

Misusing words to insult, hurt, belittle, slight, offend, disparage, put down, and cause needless pain to other human beings is a violation of the Torah prohibition against causing pain with words.

A lot of people don’t realize that it is an actual Torah violation to cause pain with words. Insults, putdowns, mocking, making fun of, and any form of non-verbal communication that causes emotional distress is included in this Torah prohibition.

When you use your power of words to make someone feel good, you are doing an act of kindness. You are elevating yourself spiritually and emotionally. You are making a friend or strengthening an already existing friendship. You are doing a great mitzvah. You are being a positive factor in someone’s life.

When people misuse the power of words to make someone feel bad, it is an act of meanness and even cruelty. They are lowering themselves spiritually and emotionally. They are making an enemy or strengthening hate. They are committing a serious transgression. They are being a negative factor in someone’s life.

Be careful not to cause pain with your words, and encourage other people to be careful not to cause pain with their words. This awareness is very important for parents and for teachers who serve as role models for their children. Those who utilize their power of speech in positive ways will have children who emulate their positive patterns.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin from
Chapter 46 of his book

I’ve written about this before in my short essay Living in the Dystopia: A Nation Divided. I recall the news stories and broadcasts from when I was a child, about the civil rights movement. Some stories were about peaceful marches and demonstrations, and others were about violence and riots.

And yet there was always the idea that through this process, things would eventually get better. People generally believed, especially as I graduated from high school in the early 1970s, that our nation would achieve an ever greater measure of racial equality.

Sure, it was a time of great unrest, uncertainty, and even fear, but I believed that when I became an adult, when I got married, when I had children, I would live in a time that was better for all people in our country, not just some.

What the hell happened?

Based on bunches and bunches of recent news stories, it seems as if the racial divide between Whites and African-Americans is worse than ever. Those dystopian science fiction tales I used to read about the “coming race wars” almost seem as if they are coming true.

One African-American news reporter even called alleged cop killer Micah Johnson a martyr. Granted, she later commented that “martyr” probably wasn’t the best word to use, and she apologized and said “My heart was not filled with hate”, but it’s difficult to know how to respond as an older, male, conservative, White guy.

Yesterday, a man I deeply respect posted an article on Facebook called 28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors. Please pause here and read the article in its entirety.

Finished? Good. Let’s proceed.

As you can imagine, a rather heated debate ensued in the Facebook comments, one of those frustrating conversations that are, by definition, unresolvable, unless one “side” agrees to unconditionally agree to the arguments of the other “side” (I put the word “side” in quotes because I believe the interaction is more complex and involves more than just two concrete points of view).

The conversation bothered me, just as other, similar ones have in the past, and I finally realized why.

The supposition that all White people are inherently part of a racist system simply by virtue of being born white has no resolution.

Most people (I can’t believe I’m saying this) believe themselves to be good and do not want to willingly participate in treating others unfairly. I believe that most white people, at least those willing to involve themselves in such a dialog, do not want to treat African-Americans or anyone else with inequality.

Hence, when people of good will who do not want to injure another human being based on race or anything else, read that they are the cause of pain and injury simply by existing, the response is “what can I do to change?”

And that’s the hook.

scriptWhen I was a young man, I briefly was involved in the door-to-door sales of encyclopedias (yeah, I know…”sales scum”). My team was trained to behave as if we were just taking a survey and, by getting the clients to agree, step-by-step, to a set of ideas about education, we led them to a pre-determined conclusion that they should purchase a product we just happened to be prepared to sell.

However, our entire presentation would fall apart if the clients asked critical questions or otherwise got “off script.” It might not be that they would even have refused to buy our encyclopedias, but since our presentation was based on an initial deception, the only way we had to sell our wares was to follow the steps we were provided.

No, I’m not saying that racism in America is a deception. Far from it. I’m not even saying that people who support 100% of the points laid out on Odin’s Blog are engaged in deception. Again, far from it.

But the process being used to “educate” (convince, indoctrinate) the White audience is based on leading them down a particular set of steps by manipulating their emotions and intentions of good will.

Like the sales pitch I used those many decades ago based on the illusion of taking a survey so I could get my foot in the door, the process of “education” requires a bit of verbal sleight of hand and manipulation of people’s emotions rather than an open and transparent dialog that allows questions and differences of option.

In these conversations, if one even asks a question or states that they don’t agree with all of the points being raised, they are typically accused of “defensiveness, frustration, ego, and passive-aggression” (I’m not making this up for the sake of example, these are actually things I and others who have asked questions have been called — please recall what Rabbi Pliskin said above about how to use words).

What’s the resolution?

That’s the hook. Odin’s Blog laid out 28 qualities of a racist but presented absolutely no method of resolution or dialog between Whites and African-Americans. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Can you see why this can be very frustrating. But then, if you express frustration, you are “defensive, egotistical, and passive-aggressive.”

Ok, there’s an illusion in operation here.

The illusion is that “Odin’s Blog” represents all African-Americans everywhere and that the list on “Odin’s Blog” is has 100% fidelity to reality for everyone.

As opposed to one person’s opinion.

You see, if we buy into another person’s opinion, any person’s opinion, without asking questions and dialoging in an open, authentic manner, we end up in this trap:

To me, I try to listen more to people who I’ve hurt than taking advice from people who are perceived as hurting others.

Now let’s look at this.

The person I quoted (I won’t name names) is a White male who perceives that, just because he’s a White male, he has somehow hurt or injured the African-American author at Odin’s Blog. But they (probably) have never even met. The White person in question read the list of 28 qualities of a racist and personalized it to himself, as if the blog author were directly addressing the individual I quoted.

That’s ridiculous.

I mean it’s one thing if a person I’ve actually met or even interacted with in social media says I said or did something that offended them or insulted them. If they point it out to me and I agree I was being a jerk, I would respond by apologizing and then attempt to amend my future behavior.

But how am I to apologize personally to all African-Americans everywhere due to the insult of me being born White? And even if I do, where do I go from there?

The same gentleman I quoted above also said this:

God did not give us a spirit of fear or timidity…but of boldness and courage in our faith. What does love look like? What does it look like to love our neighbors? Especially those who believe they are oppressed? Should we try and convince them they are not oppressed? Should we convince them they just need to keep a positive attitude about life and things will get better? What is the proper response to a people group who stands up and says “we are being hurt daily by the behaviors of another group of people?” ESPECIALLY when the group of people communicating hurt do not have power to change it given the power structures that exist in the accused group?

When someone criticized me- either the criticism is valid and I don’t have an excuse or defense, or the criticism is invalid and I don’t need an excuse or defense.

unworthyBut the way I perceive this narrative, as a White person, I’m required to possess “a spirit of fear and timidity” because to ask questions that are “off script” results in being criticized. I’m not even sure if this person believes I have somehow criticized him. I don’t think it’s a criticism to disagree or to ask questions, and especially to ask about potential solutions to this apparent conundrum.

I’ve mentioned before that the spirit and concept of Black Lives Matter makes a lot of sense, however it is sometimes implemented in a manner that is inevitably harmful to African-Americans and to any hope of unity among Americans of color and those of us who are not.

What I find far more helpful is expressed in a quote I found here:

So this morning I went into a convenient store to get a protein bar. As I walked through the door, I noted that there was two white police officers (one about my age and the other several years older) talking to the clerk (an older white woman) behind the counter about the shootings that have gone one in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent. I went about my business to get what I was looking for, as I turned back up the isle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the isle watching me. As I got closer he asked me, “How I was doing? I replied “Okay, and you? He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?” I looked at him and said “I’m tired!” His reply was, “me too.” Then he said, “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now is it.” I said, “No, it’s not.” Then he hugged me and I cried. I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning, that was absolutely beautiful. No judgments, No justifications, just two people sharing a moment…

I don’t know where just two people sharing a moment” falls on the list of 28 qualities of a racist or in the Facebook conversation in which I’ve participated, but it doesn’t seem like we’re going to get anywhere as long as anyone, White or African-American, is required to compromise their identity and integrity and become subservient to another group.

During Hitler’s Holocaust, the Jews and other “undesirables” were totally dehumanized by the Nazis, which made it possible to horribly mistreat them and even to murder millions. Yes, in the United States, African-Americans have historically been horribly mistreated, and even today, in the 21st century I once imagined would hold all the solutions to the sins of the past, that inequality continues. Only a fool would believe otherwise.

To quote Rabbi Pliskin again:

Be careful not to cause pain with your words, and encourage other people to be careful not to cause pain with their words. This awareness is very important for parents and for teachers who serve as role models for their children. Those who utilize their power of speech in positive ways will have children who emulate their positive patterns.

I believe that the only reasonable, perhaps the only possible solution, is for all parties to treat each other with mutual respect and dignity. That Whites have traditionally been guilty of treating African-Americans poorly must be recognized, and I think everyone willing to participate in such a dialog does recognize that fact.

But the current narrative doesn’t allow for mutual respect. In order to build up African-Americans, the narrative requires that Whites surrender their dignity and even their self-definition.

I recently read an article called Private Manhattan School Teaches White Kids They Are Born Racists, which stated in part:

Instructors at one private K-8 school in Manhattan are teaching their white students they are born racist, training them to feel guilty for benefitting from “white privilege,” while offering praise and benefits to their black counterparts.

Administrators at the Bank Street School for Children on the Upper West Side told the New York Post it is their way of addressing discrimination, adding that many other private New York institutions are implementing similar practices, but many are pushing back against the method — including liberal parents.

The school of 430 students is separating white children from their black peers and putting them in classes where they are forced to feel horrible about their “whiteness.” At the same time, all the “kids of color” are put in other rooms where they are instructed to feel proud about their race and their pride is reinforced with treats and special privileges.


School children (8-10) in front of map: Image, Huffington Post

Of course, I’m always a tad dubious of what is presented on the Internet, and news sources with a heavy social and political bias, both conservative and liberal, should always be checked for accuracy, but if this is all true, and this is the desired outcome of conversations like the one I’ve been having on Facebook, then I can’t possibly imagine anything resembling racial unity in this country will occur within my lifetime (and I’m not getting any younger).

We’ve had forced segregation in our schools in the past and that didn’t work. We’ve had forced integration in our schools in the past and that didn’t work either. The only thing that will work is to continue the dialog. Playing the blame game solves nothing for anyone.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel marched together in unity. Until we have that again, we have no hope.

I told someone on Facebook that I was writing this blog post as an act of futility. It probably is. This is what happens when fools dare to speak, or in my case, write.

I’m not politically correct. I never will be. But I will always think and attempt to respond to people and situations both with reason and with compassion. I don’t think that should cost me my free will, my right to make independent decisions, or my soul.

14 thoughts on “Living in the Dystopia: When Fools Dare to Speak

  1. A few points of disagreement:
    1. It does not require emotional manipulation to see a perspective and acknowledge its validity. White people sometimes agree with this not out of guilt, but because we see it. We believe the accounts and experiences, we see the overarching problems, and we accept its systemic nature. You won’t get far in that dialogue you want to have by painting people who disagree with you as being under the spell of emotional manipulation.

    2. The fundamental misunderstanding of the social justice position is that whites should feel guilty and ashamed of being white. Aside from extremists, that simply isn’t the message. As a matter of fact, white guilt is identified as a serious liability in the search for a more equitable society.

    The essential message is: systemic racism is real, and all of us are affected by it. Either we’ve absorbed some of its messages, benefited from its inbalances, or been oppressed by it. No one is immune.

    If you don’t agree with that last statement, let’s discuss it!


    • Thank you, Kari. I am happy to have an invitation to discuss. On the Facebook post in question, it felt like discussion, especially about points of disagreement, was discouraged if not outright banned. As I mentioned in the body of this blog post, it seemed as if anyone who disagreed was assigned a series of undesirable labels. I don’t understand how these matters can be transparently discussed without permission to interact and not be judged.

      Anyway, after reading Jona Olsson’s original content (see my previous comment here), I’ve come away with a better understanding of what’s being proposed including a way forward, which I didn’t see previously.

      As far as “emotional manipulation” is concerned, I’m describing the strategy of convincing an audience of a certain point. This is something understood by a lot of different groups, from salespeople to Pastors to motivational speakers. You have an audience in front of you who may be resistant to the message you want them to adopt (whether it’s buying a product or agreeing to a particularly social, religious, or political viewpoint). How do you convince your audience to makes the desired change, and especially to believe it was their idea?

      That requires a strategy, usually starting with something you believe your audience possesses, which in this case, is the belief that your white audience really does desire racial equality and does not want to unwitting participate in racism. Sometimes you can accomplish this through a logical argument, but most often, you’ll reach a wider audience, and elicit a much stronger sense of investment and agreement if you appeal to their emotions.

      There’s nothing wrong with this as such. It’s simply a strategy of convincing your audience to change, which seems to be the goal here. However, if it appears that emotion is the primary or only tool used in the strategy, it could be perceived to be manipulative. That’s why a lot of people don’t like salespeople, trial attorneys, and televangelists. They seem disingenuous (even if they really aren’t).

      As far as your second point, the social justice position and a message that states “All whites are racist” seems to be accompanied by the implicit message that “all whites should feel guilty”. I’ve done some minor Googling into “white guilt” and I agree that it tends to inhibit positive change rather than promote it. In general, people tend to feel paralyzed by guilt of any sort, especially if there doesn’t appear to be a way to resolve the guilt and move forward. People have committed suicide in extreme cases where they could find no hope.

      Systemic racism, that is, the general national, cultural, racial system in which we live, the United States of America, has historically been built on the ascendance of a particular race, class, and gender to the detriment of all other races, classes and genders. In other words, historically, old, rich, white men ruled. They still do. Look at the members of Congress (OK, they have a few old, white women in their, too).

      However, for the average guy or gal, we don’t always perceive ourselves as having built or currently maintain “the system,” usually because most of the time, we feel manipulated and used by that same system, not in charge of it. Thus accusing an individual white person that they are guilty of “the system” usually elicits a bit of push back.

      Everyone is a product of their society and culture. We are frequently bombarded by messages from that culture in terms of what to say, what to buy, how to think, how to act, where to live, so on and so forth. Pokemon Go is currently the mobile app of necessity for a certain demographic. That’s marketing, whether it’s presented in TV or other ads, in the news media, in social media, so on and so forth. Numerous groups, including the federal government, are always attempting to influence our thoughts and emotions, and thus our actions and beliefs (George Orwell’s novel “1984” should be required reading by all Americans).

      So if part of our culture contains information about race, who we are, who other people are, then yes, we have absorbed that information.

      No one is born racist. Racism, in all its various flavors, is taught. The question is, how to present that information in a way that doesn’t immediately elicit an immediate push back? Probably not by saying, “You’re racist just because you’re white and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Granted, that’s an extreme version of the message, but that’s the one I seem to see most often. So what’s a better way of getting the message across?

      I don’t exactly know, except that it’s better to offer an open dialog than to say “If you disagree, then you’re defensive, engaging your ego, and passive-aggressive.” You lose your audience by labeling and name calling.

      I like that Olsson was able to say that we have inherited our system, we didn’t create it. That reduces if not removes the blame for the system at the level of the individual. Joe or Jane White Person doesn’t immediately have to feel responsible for something they didn’t make and feel helpless to change. “The system” is an 800 pound monster with six-inch fangs dripping with cobra venom. How the heck does one white person control something like that let alone accept the blame for that?

      If you present the concept of “systemic racism” as external to the individual but that it also affects the individual (since we live inside the system), then it’s a bit easier to digest. It means there’s something wrong with the system that, if we all band together cooperatively, we might be able to change over time. It’s what I was trying to communicate at the very start of this blog post. The message expressed this way encourages cooperation and unity rather than fostering an “us vs. them” mentality, where your audience is always “them” unless they automatically agree with all your points without the opportunity to discuss and voluntarily participate.

      If racism is the “bad guy” and all of us can be invited to cooperate in going after the “bad guy,” then people will listen. However, if your (not “you” personally) first move is to call your audience the “bad guy” and they have to all agree to being “bad” before given the opportunity to participate in opposing racism, it’s going to be a tough sell. The Odin’s Blog content made it seem as if the latter were the preferred method of communicating to the audience, and from my point of view, the Facebook conversation re-enforced and supported that perception.

      “Let’s discuss it” are the most welcome three words I’ve read coming out of this today. Thank you.


  2. Oh duh! I just realized something. The content on Odin’s Blog was a reblog. The original content was authored by Jona Olsson at Cultural Bridges to Justice. I said that Odin’s Blog didn’t offer a solution to the problems raised, but it did at the very bottom. However, this too is Olsson’s content, and to quote her:

    Racism oppresses and exploits people of color. While it grants white people undeniable advantages and benefits, racism also robs each of us of our full humanity. We didn’t construct racism; we inherited it. But the unchallenged perpetuation of racism is our responsibility. Racism continues in the name of all white people.

    People of color will continue to demand their rights, opportunities and full personhood. But racism in North America won’t end because people of color demand it. Racism will only end when a significant number of white people of conscience, the people who can wield systemic privilege and power with integrity, find the will and take the action to dismantle it. That won’t happen until white people find racism in our daily consciousness as often as people of color do. For now we have to drag racism into our consciousness intentionally, for unlike our sisters and brothers of color, the most present daily manifestation of our white privilege is the possibility of forgetting about racism.

    We cannot.

    While there is nothing about racism to celebrate, there is much to celebrate in a life lived in the pursuit of justice. It is the work of a lifetime.

    So basically, the solution is for White people to consciously compel themselves to be aware of racism, that is, the racist acts, words, and attitudes they/we personally possess and express on a daily basis, and attempt to eradicate them from our identity.

    Of course, Olsson’s position is based on the concept of “white privilege,” a sense of unfair advantage apparently possessed by White people in America and elsewhere, and again, the implication that we should perpetually feel guilty for being born. With that, I have to disagree, since experiencing perpetual guilt is usually no way of moving forward.

    To be fair, she says we inherited the system, we didn’t create it, so I give her props for that. I am actually OK with her general statement that we should work to make the world a better place for all people, not just ourselves, since it mirrors to some degree, the concept of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world.

    If you want to find out more about Olsson (yes, she’s White), you can check out her Facebook page (you see more info if you’re logged into Facebook, but she’s sparing about offering up details, at least recently).

    You can also read her official bio at Cultural Bridges to Justice. I suppose given that, she could be defined as a “Social Justice Warrior” (SJK). I’m not sure what would happen if we found ourselves in the same room together. Hopefully, we’d have an honest and authentic conversation, although I suspect we’d disagree on a number of points. She’s following a path that she believes will make the world a better place, and in that, I wish her well.


  3. I feel like our rugged American individualism hurts us in these conversations. This isn’t just about individuals and their choices. It’s about systems and societies, and none of us gets a pass on that. Tackling your own prejudices is very important, but so is recognizing that there is a system in place that rewards whiteness and punishes blackness. That seems to be the point that white people fight the hardest, and seriously lose the respect of our friends and neighbors of color when we do, because that’s a painful dismissal of their lived reality. It is like denying anti-Semitism as an ingrained, driving force in pre-Holocaust Germany. Not every German was an anti-Semite, but Germany was anti-Semitic. Even those who rejected the hatred that drove it participated in the system and privileges that institutionalized and supported anti-Semitism. And to be sure, Hitler whipped anti-Semitism to a frenzy, but he played on elements that were already there. Social justice seeks to open the eyes of Americans to this reality. You can call this a disagreement or a difference of opinion, but it feels much more personal than that to a person of color because it’s a denial of something they’ve lived with their entire lives. You may not see it, but it’s important to acknowledge the possibility that you don’t see it because you’re not the target.
    This isn’t about establishing a hierarchy of suffering (as some argue), and we need to accept that acknowledging oppression of one group isn’t saying no other humans are oppressed or that they don’t suffer. Both can be true.

    We can disagree on many points and strategies, but dismissing the entire concept will never result in fruitful discussion or change. If that’s what white people are out there doing, then I understand why their conversations lead nowhere.


    • OK, I’m struggling to see your point, Kari. I am an individual. I am not “the system”. That is, I don’t have total and complete control over our society, culture, and government. If taking personal responsibility for my actions is not enough, then what else am I supposed to do? The only other option I see is to become an “anti-racism evangelist” to those around me. How can I be personally responsible for “systems and societies?” That goes right back to painting me in a corner and assigning me a task I have no hope of accomplishing. A no-win scenario of hopelessness.


  4. I saw this story on Facebook and it’s profoundly sad that this woman felt the only response she would make to all of the racial unrest in the nation today was this one. I’ve been told that “white guilt” is not a requirement for social justice, but the poor woman in the story apparently didn’t get that message.

    I hope the conversation hasn’t been abandoned. I really wanted to know the answer I asked in my previous comment.


  5. I read the list of 28 as you requested. I didn’t feel guilt or manipulation, only communication of the perspective (the writer’s, which is, as I think you also said, not to be equated to the words of every person of color). Even the end, which you just now called attention to, but which I had already read when I linked over, I didn’t see as a call to feel guilty but to be aware. I did feel something then, the feeling that I would be very weary if I tried to do that (literally absolutely all the time). So, as a matter of fact, I acknowledged it’s true I can rest from it.

    The thing is that many, maybe all in her view, or most people of color have to think about these things all the time (although there might be brief moments where there is a freedom from it) — actually have to, because they experience the reality, real time. One of their sons might get shot on the way walking with Skittles; maybe they shouldn’t let him walk in their own seemingly safe neighborhood (not because he shouldn’t walk or even because it’s not what we would think of as a safe neighborhood, but because they want him to live).

    Turns out there was (unbeknownst to one family) an overzealous, probably even bloodthirsty, “crime” watcher in a now infamous neighborhood, a man who had “the right” to “stand his ground” while the youngster “didn’t” have a right to be there, first of all, and then to even think of defending himself. The kid (while he did what my kids did many days) was supposed to know someone stalking him was okay, no matter how creepy it really was. Why shouldn’t a black kid be followed? Why shouldn’t he have to ignore an unstable person on his heels?

    I understand your feeling that things would get way better, the sunny optimism. In the late 70s, I actually thought racism was past. That our culture (historically) learned and left it behind. Then I found out it wasn’t true. Plenty of people who said they weren’t racist showed that they really were. I’ll give you one example right now, although it’s not the worst in actual consequence at the time. I dated a guy who I found to be incompatible when a topic of a white person going out with a black person came up. He insisted that was dating another species.

    There are people who don’t think that’s racist because there is no expression of intent to kill anyone, or even beat them up. And he wasn’t for reinstituting slavery. So, you know, what’s the problem except with those who don’t agree with him? [He was going to become a police officer, so he might be in a department somewhere even now as I’m in my early fifties and he was close to my age.] Most ongoing racism isn’t that obvious. But racist impediments have gone on during these decades susequent to our thinking we should be more mature.


  6. There’s been more posting since I started writing my post this morning and haven’t had time to finish it until a little while ago. I’m enjoying your writing, Kari. And I appreciate your struggling, James.

    James, I don’t think benefiting (usually without realizing it in specific terms of having a benefit not so available to others) or taking in messages from “the system” makes a person a bad guy. It is when we become aware and choose to prefer such a system because it’s easier or because we might as well get the benefits and don’t want to think about it that the bad is taken on. I know that I took on some messaging that wouldn’t seem racial on the face of it but turns out it was. And that’s the idea that as long as you work hard (or if you don’t work for money if you are a good wife), everything will be fine with finances. Turns out that’s not true either. And people of color have been getting ripped off for centuries here… in multiple ways. It’s late and I don’t want to go into them.


  7. In my view, one of the most regrettable aspects of a discussion of this sort, spanning however many individual blogs, is that the entire discussion is locked into a racist worldview. What I mean by that is that in order to participate in the discussion, one must tacitly assent to the existence of separate races at odds or in competition with one another. One is intrinsically prohibited from viewing people as individuals, each with their own merits and demerits. Now, of course, these individuals do not exist in isolation — each of them has been influenced by their environment, be it family attitudes, cultural attitudes, personal experiences, group experiences, cultural-reference-group identity, religious views, education, and more. But the problem, both in Nazi Germany and in the USA (and elsewhere), is in judging individuals as if they were reducible merely to faceless members of some group identity.

    My first memory of realizing some degree of this insight was of hearing an uncle make a derogatory comment about “niggers”. I was quite young, and had never before heard such language — it was never used in my own home. In fact, I’m grateful to my mother for having taught me to look at people as people rather than as members of a group, particularly regarding blacks — though clearly the principle was intended to be extensible to all the recognizable ethnic or cultural groups encountered in our immediate neighborhood — which included Catholics, Italians (by extraction), Protestants, Germans, Irish, and relatively few Jews or blacks.

    A much later realization hit me shortly after I returned to the USA following some years of living in Israel as an Israeli citizen. I noted, while listening to the radio during my commutes to and from work, how much discussion there was of racism, and how many comments referred to someone’s race. It struck me as something that must have developed during those years while I was out of the country, because I certainly could not remember such talk from the period before I left — neither from the period while I was growing up nor from the period of my adult life just before I left for Israel. But maybe I was an extraordinarily sheltered individual. I certainly didn’t hear such talk while I was in Israel, because it was simply absent from the views of the people around me. Indeed, I can only infer that it developed in the USA in that interim as a result of continual re-emphasis on racially-tainted views and conflicts.

    It seems to me also to reflect an essentially Marxist or Alinsky-ite dialectic, to pit “haves” against “have-nots”, or blacks against whites, or liberals against conservatives, or “left” against “right” (so-called), or women against men, or this group against that group however such groups may be defined in opposition to one another. Such deliberate divisiveness is a recipe for weakening a society to soften it for impending conquest or collapse. It is precisely opposite from the sense of a common people working together (despite their diversity) toward a common sense of ideals or goals (including respect for individual self-interest and well-being) such as the USA was founded upon. Even if such ideals are never completely successfully implemented, the very pursuit of them has positive influences on the society. Just imagine the contrast from the current state of conflict between however many disparate points of view.

    Consequently, it seems to me that the solution to the problem is to make conscious efforts to change the terms and assumptions and parameters of the discussion, and quite deliberately to insist upon viewing people as people, for only what each individual that one encounters does, and says, and thinks, regardless of tribal or ethnic or cultural influences. Then one is free also to challenge destructive behaviors, attitudes, and philosophies, and to prescribe better ones, with a view toward redeeming individuals from a full range of human errors. Hence if people are together pursuing what is good and just and right, at least they are all aimed in the right direction.


  8. I woke up and found this in one of my morning comic strips. Seemed appropriate. I’ll comment more later.

    “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
    -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


  9. I’ve been pondering this off and on through the night (I don’t always sleep well) and then I processed the comments that appeared here overnight, particularly PL’s.

    I also re-read some of the final comments on the original Facebook posting, particularly of one individual, and I realized what part of the problem seems to be. This probably isn’t true of all people involved in the “social justice” movement (for lack of a better term), but I think it’s true of some.

    If one’s self-esteem, self-worth, and identity is caught up in being what’s been termed a “social justice warrior” (SJW), then that person might be heavily invested in seeing all African-Americans as powerless victims, and all whites who are not SJW’s as oppressors.

    That’s what I experienced at Facebook:

    – you are right. It isn’t about me. It’s about a group of people in our country who don’t have power

    In order for one’s social value to be maintained, the powerless group of people must always be seen as powerless and always require the assistance of white SJWs. If effectively takes all power and self-determination out of that group. Well, it doesn’t really. But it does in the perception of the SJW.

    Also, it requires some rather rude behavior from the SJW toward anyone who disagrees. Fortunately here, the conversation has been civil and respectful. It’s possible to disagree without personalizing conflict. I’ve seen these arguments before in “religious” blogging, and they can turn very ugly. I believe that’s what happened on Facebook.

    I can acknowledge that racism exists in the same sense as any other injustice. The world is filled with injustice and as people of good conscience and of faith (those of you commenting who are people of faith), we have a responsibility to be part of righting wrongs and making the world a better place for us and for future generations.

    But that doesn’t mean the SJW model is the only way to go. As PL points out, that can as easily increase division and stifle bridge-building behaviors as more blatant forms of racism.

    If you look around the world and you see the variety of what Christians like to call “ministries,” you’ll see a wide panorama of diverse efforts addressing diverse problems. Not all of them are dedicated to the racism experienced by African-Americans.

    Social development is a lot like personal development, and in fact, it always has to start at the level of the individual. The only thing we have control over is our behavior and our underlying thoughts and beliefs. As I can personally attest, self-improvement is a difficult process and progress is slow and non-linear.

    A society can be considered a organic system, just as a human being can be. It’s slow to change, non-linear in its progression, and sometimes gets stuck at one developmental stage for a while. Does that mean we quit? No. Does that mean we shame or insult others who we perceive haven’t developed along the same path or to the same degree as we have? No. Consider the quote from Rabbi Pliskin I offered at the top of the page.

    Any movement that requires you devalue, insult, or berate one group, either for the purpose of elevating another or for the purpose of elevating one’s personal ego, is seriously flawed, no matter how well-meaning it may be otherwise.

    Religious groups are as guilty of this as social justice movements. The problem is “us vs. them.” If you have to make an enemy out of “them” in order to help “us,” then unity and equality are not registering on your radar screen.

    It’s easy to use “But I’m helping the powerless” as a justification for bad behavior, and it’s easy to allow that to blur your vision, but, as the saying goes, blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make your’s burn any brighter.

    I was considering something someone said about my not being a joiner. It’s true. Especially in the last few years, thanks to certain experiences, I’ve “unjoined” a number of groups, both in the Christian and Messianic realms.

    As I pointed out in a comment I made at “Morning Meditations,” I don’t run with “the herd”. If I have a herd, it’s more like the one we see in the “Ice Age” movies. What do a Mammoth, a Saber-Tooth Tiger, and a Sloth have in common? Nothing really. So why are they a herd? Because they don’t connect to their own kind. For various reasons, they broke from their own species and went it alone until recombining with others to form one of cartoon fiction’s most unique herds.

    I’d like to think of myself as Manny or Diego. They each have their own kind of strength. I suspect though, that I’m Sid, the plucky comedy relief.

    Some people just don’t fit into a herd. I agree with Dr. King. We should judge ourselves and others by the content of our characters, not which pigeon hole someone wants to put us in.


    Here’s an example of white privilege; growing up back when he did, the child of a criminal, but “respected” greatly.
    [I don’t normally read this paper, but it’s pretty famous. And I think you linked to it for one of your articles previously.]
    I don’t know why the address for this link uses the word “producer” — in the article, he’s a photojournalist.

    (Also want to note that the independent “martyr” journalist you cited in your own article was let go/fired.)
    The chief minimizes by saying the employee just got carried away, but at least he sticks to the choice of firing the guy because it’s unacceptable.


  11. I went to a Christian high school with maybe twenty percent black kids. Racism made no sense to me. And I can report that I absolutely know peace and equality was possible in general. My parents also taught in city schools (I didn’t live in the city and didn’t go to a city school). My point of view, after many years (decades actually) of being “a conservative” is that too many in that faction didn’t want it. They preferred their privilege (even if sometimes this is imagined or accepted as imputed so as not to feel so low), looked down on black people (wanting or needing to have a better spot of gradation in status than blacks), and acted accordingly. The only “peace” they could think of is black people knowing their place and not being “uppity” (equal). My high school was conservative (in the most positive imagined connotation of the word) in the sense of having good morals and so on. And no one stood out as not belonging there. But I was in a separate political organization too.

    I would like to recommend a book, “I Have A Dream” (Writings and Speeches [Martin Luther King Jr] that changed the World), edited by James M. Washington (I have the 75th Anniversary Edition). No, we didn’t read it at that school. Understand, I shared straight quotations from this on a Christian (conservative) website about ten years ago. This created enemies. Others were polite but suspicious. That’s a problem. There were people in real world circles who spread the notion for decades that Martin Luther King Jr was a menace to society. (My mother bought into that but now pretends she never thought that way. He was painted as a commy and thereby very very bad. There are a number of things my mother did that she can’t face, but I’ll leave it at that… except to say she didn’t come from a rich family, not poor, but not rich. She would have liked to have been a social climber. But she was a teacher, and she married a teacher; tisk, tisk. I happen to have a lot of respect for my dad.)

    * I wasn’t in the organization all these years. After high school, I was already indoctrinated but didn’t continue with the group (which my mother had been active in). Thank God, I’d had other input.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.