I’ve been working on this post for a while, this was not just an emotionally laden year for me personally with mom passing, it seemed like wherever I looked, everything was upside down. I had an idea about using quotes that conveyed not just what 2016 was, but what I hoped 2017 will be. The problem with using quotes is that I ended up delving into the who and what the person who said it stood for, instead of focusing on the story I wanted to tell. So, I stuck with the first quote, and then let my mind wander to see where it would take me.
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”
― John Locke
My initial quest in trying to learn more about John Locke, and what he meant when he talked about equality and tolerance for all people, wasn’t for naught, I found an older article that probably speaks more to me today, than if I’d read it when it was first published, and I found it because the author had written about John Locke in the past. This is the post I found that touched me so deeply, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2012, and perhaps, best describes the turning point, when the deep-seated hatred by some for President Obama, spilled out into the open, from people who’d previously voiced their displeasure, but were quiet on the aspect of race. There can be no doubt after from how they framed their displeasure, it was because he was Black, not that they just disagreed with his policies. I’ve often wondered through the last few years, if for some their anger wasn’t also fueled by their own shame at their views, if yes, they’d be the ones who can change.
“The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled. ” – Ta-Nehisi Coates
It also seems to me, it’s about the time when civility became an anomaly. What I saw was ongoing pushing back on the topic of race, the difference in how people were treated, and how often it came down to their race, some subtle indicators, others blatant. The good that came out of the pushback, as ugly as it could be, was that more people like me, started to speak up more often, find words to offer support.
All of this was happening at the time when mom started to slowly go downhill physically and mentally, she relied on me more and more, which meant, an ongoing increase in the frequency of trips to my hometown, even though she had a daily caretaker in. She needed me at doctor visits to remember and explain things between visits, to make sure she was taking the right meds based on what the doctor actually said, to going through the monthly paperwork and make sure she wasn’t missing things, or making mistakes. As the trips became more frequent, my time in between was spent trying to recover enough to do the next trip, thankfully, my husband knows when I’ve overdone it and took over at home. Each time I went to my hometown, the more aware I became of how white it was, everywhere I looked, the people around me looked like me, the typical small white town. Even the senior community mom had moved to, and thrived in, seemed to be wholly populated by people who looked like her, it was only when we went to the city, was any diversity to be found.
I also saw more of mom’s friends she’d known most of her adult life, people who I grew up around, played with their kids, perfectly polite, helpful and friendly people. One day on facebook I decided to look some of them up and also see what there kids were up to. I’d like to say that I was shocked at their views, the disdain they held for so many, but I’m not because as a child, I saw how they greeted people in church and spoke kindly to those they deemed less than, then gossiped to each other about them behind their back. Old women now, still steeped in their hate, but they knew mom wouldn’t tolerate that in her home and she still held status in their church. I’m sure mom knew what they were like, and she just hoped to change them by giving them grace and taking the high road.
Which brings me to what I see today, a result of an onslaught of hate fueled by racism and incorrect information, paraded as fact everywhere you look that has become the norm in the past few years, and the rhetoric spoken during the election cycle that seemed to not just approve the ugly, it welcomed it. While this change has taken place, I’ve read articles from conservative sites to see the difference, lately, reading the comments, trying to understand. The sheer volume of ignorance in the comments, not just ugliness, ignorance of facts that are documented, sourced, is bewildering to me. They must only read the misleading headlines, or people are taking 59th-hand information that morphed each time it was passed on as gospel truth. Sort of like the game we played where you repeat a sentence whispered to you to the person next to you, and by the time it gets to the end of the line, the sentence originally stated has changed so much you can’t believe it, a game that was meant to teach us to search for the truth.
The divide I see is so deep, so visceral, I don’t think people could even come together to agree that sugar is sweet, or that the sky is a beautiful shade of blue when the weather is good. All of which takes me back 50+ years to article written by Ralph Emerson McGill titled “Hate Knows No Direction” published by The Saturday Evening Post, December 14, 1963 in memory of John F Kennedy. Thanks to mom, I now have a well-worn copy of this special edition, one I’d never read until now. Mom thought so highly of Kennedy and voted for him despite her fears of his Catholic faith (yes, that was a thing). But back to this article that keeps haunting me in it’s familiarity of what I see happening now, despite a different time, subject.
“We have grown used to seeing, on television, the hate-twisted faces of young men and women, and of their adult counterparts, crying out the most violent threats and expressing venom against their country, its courts and its authority. We have seen the frightening faces of screaming, cursing mothers during the desegregation of schools in New Orleans. The lives of those persons who sought to stand for law have been disturbed by threats and abuse, by filth shouted over the phone, by prowlers and, now and then, by a shot fired into the house.”
– Hate Knows No Direction, Ralph Emerson McGill
Reading the article it speaks about the hatred happening around the country for President Kennedy, anything he wanted to do, or even suggested, was belittled, fought against, because people were angry about his push for civil rights, it seems very much like the landscape President Obama faced, nothing he did was acceptable, didn’t matter if it was to their benefit, it was wrong because it came from him. It’d be interesting to do a historical comparison to see how similar the mood was. I wish I could give you a link to the entire article, you can purchase a reproduction copy of this special edition of The Saturday Evening Post, or read it at your library, other articles in it are worth reading too. I was too little to understand what was happening in the fight for Civil Rights, so reading and learning more about it through the lens of those writing about it back then, is very helpful to get a feeling for what the mood was in the country.
After I read the article “Hate Knows No Bounds”, I had to find out more about the man who crafted a story of how hate destroys, and how it happened there. It turns out that Ralph McGill had been writing and working to promote civil rights since the 1940’s in the South, and that was how he knew President Kennedy. There’s a biography about him that I might get to try to read, last time I tried, my brain said it still wasn’t up to the task of keeping that long of a story-line cohesive. But this may be worth trying again, as it seems like he had a lot of integrity and fair play in his soul, it’s a biography so it may be easier for my brain as it’s facts, not plots. And to keep the theme correct for an adoption blog, during my reading about Ralph McGill, I learned that he and his first wife were adoptive parents, just a notation in his bio as the child passed away young, brief biographical details here to glimpse who he was.
Which brings us full circle to the quote by John Locke – “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” The lack of thinking, assessing what is said, is lacking, yet, there is no dearth of resources available at our finger-tips to confirm or deny what is claimed. It is a lack of willingness to spend the time researching before posting that has brought us to this point, now it’s time to push for change. If we don’t think, assess, challenge with civility, research, stand-up and say no that’s wrong when we see it – the hate will win.
I wish for truth and civility to return in 2017, what do you wish for?
Happy New Year, stay safe.