Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hate Unleashed

Last night I watched an interesting segment on Countdown (link to video) where Keith interviewed Melissa Harris-Lacewell. His opening question to her was about whether or not we're seeing racism in this country becoming blatant rather than hidden behind euphemisms.

At one point in the conversation, Melissa talked about the cumulative effect of things like having an African American President, a female Secretary of State and a Latina on the Supreme Court. She goes on to say:

That kind of change in America produces a great deal of anxiety for people who are not quite sure that governing amongst women and brown and black people constitutes real American government.

I think she captures much of what I've been feeling about what's behind the fear we see these wingnuts expressing. As I wrote recently in an essay about The children of 1969, we're now seeing the effects of affirmative action in our halls of power - and particularly the affirmative action that began at Ivy League schools in 1969. The face of power in this country is changing. And that scares some people.

All of that reminded me of a book I read last year by David Jensen titled The Culture of Make Believe. In it, Jensen takes us on his own journey to try to understand the roots of hate and violence in this country - covering everything from the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, sexism, subjugation of worker's rights, and the exploitation of our environment.

Ultimately he finds the common thread in our attempts to objectify everyone and everything. And that, he feels, comes from a sense of entitlement.

I have spent the past several hours now thinking about the notion that masters "shall be entitled to their labor," and at the risk of overstating, it seems to me that entitlement is key to nearly all atrocities, and that any threat to perceived entitlement will provoke hatred.

He then goes on to say that, as long as that entitlement is honored, the hatred becomes transparent and difficult to identify...what Keith referred to in his initial question to Melissa as "hidden behind euphemisms." But once it is challenged - it explodes.

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement. <...>

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

I think this captures very well what we're seeing today. The entitlement enjoyed by our white male patriarchy is being challenged in the halls of power - especially in its most visible manifestation to the whole country, ie, the federal government.

As long as the gains for "others" were held in check so that they could be cordoned off as "identity politics," that entitlement to the ultimate power was maintained. But now we have women and people of color moving into the top seats of power where they are positioned to represent everyone. I believe that this is an ultimate challenge to entitlement and therefore threatens the construct at its roots.

This has unleashed the anxiety - fear - and yes, even the hatred that was shoved under the surface for the past 40 years or more. It was always there - as long as those "others" knew their place and didn't challenge the entitlement too seriously. But the lid has been blown off and we're all getting a pretty good view of the ugly underbelly in the backlash.

It reminds me of something professionals who work in the field of domestic violence have known for a long time...when a woman who has been abused leaves or finds a way to challenge the power of her abuser, it is at that moment that the most serious violence is probable.

In saying all of this, I'm not suggesting that we give in to our own fear and hatred for this kind of thing. As a matter of fact, I think we need to do just the opposite...keep our eyes on the prize and continue moving forward. As Martin Luther King, Jr. counseled so long ago:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Here's hoping that enough of us have seen the light and can embrace these changes rather than fear/hate them. If so, we might deal another death blow to the idea of entitlement.

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