Friday, June 19, 2015

From Race to Religion to Massacre, The Way Forward

With the recent and apparent racially motivated church shooting massacre in Charleston, South Carolina at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, it seemed potentially a better endeavor to explore this through the lens of a less recent and raw racial issue. 

The Executive Branch officially made it to 2006 when President Barack Obama unveiled the first POTUS Twitter account back in mid-May. Unfortunately, segments of America have not even made it past the 1960s. The account has seen a stream of what some report as being hateful, racial and bitterly divisive messages and imagery. 

To anyone who has spent any significant amount of time engaging with minorities or in urban settings are not at all shocked to see this response to President Obama. I'd wager the President understood this would happen. With a year and a half of his second term left to go and not much legislation with the 114th Congress possible, this could be his attempt to unearth the systemic bigotry and hatred in America.

Perhaps, there is hope that exposure to the public sunlight and discourse will diminish the hold of racial intolerance and bigotry on the country.

Many on the liberal left make a valid argument that many of these messages and images are actually forms of hate speech. I do understand the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech, but that is a very fine and potentially dangerous line of attack that can stifle creativity and individuality. For me to just express my opinions as a gay man to some people is considered offensive and wrong. The same can be said of women's opinions.

Stifling the speech of bigotry, intolerance and racism does little to help those on the fringes of society.

In fact, it may create isolated pockets within our society that are responsible for these racially motivated crimes. When a discussion and dialogue about race becomes too problematic, less honest and open for everyone, these issues not only persist within our society but boil over. 

Do I have the answers? I absolutely do not. I do know that bigotry, intolerance and racism are not a switch that someone can just switch off after these have been installed and instilled in them throughout the course of their lives. I would hope that we can find paths of compassion and understanding for these people instead. They didn't get to be hateful all on their own, and I don't think piling on shame and guilt is ever helpful in motivating or inspiring people to grow. 

The most difficult people to remain non-judgmental of are judgmental people. The most difficult people to not become hateful and reactive to are hateful and reactive people.

I get it wrong all the time. If people held everything against everyone that has ever been done, said, felt and thought, we'd all be a disgrace.

Being offended doesn’t give you rights.

Too often, someone says the wrong word or the wrong phrase, and people are offended. People simply become too easily offended in our modern culture. Then, with the age of social media, they rain a new realm of hatred and intolerance upon their targets labeling their efforts the opposite of what it is that they are actually doing. What exactly is the difference?  

In examining the recent wave of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) to allow businesses and individuals the right to discriminate on the basis of religious liberty is just one example of the attacks on freedom being waged in America currently. This is the issue with trying to create an atmosphere where everything and everyone must conform to political correctness or someone’s or anyone’s point of view.

Trying to use religion or one’s deep offense at someone’s speech as a way to control or ostracize them is its own form of hate speech. It also has a tendency to send the toxicity underground where it can fester until a horrific act is committed, as in Charleston, SC. Of course, when that speech directs people to specific acts of violence, that is hate speech that goes beyond the freedom of speech. When hateful speech, however, is allowed to go unchallenged, it can instigate and foment violent behavior within people. This has been the issue in America for the last 80 years, the hateful speech going unchallenged in churches and in public.

As seen with the massacre in South Carolina, the culture of racism and violence led someone to walk into a black church and shoot dead many people he didn’t even know. He drove hours to get there, so why did he choose that church? The answer seems as obvious as the reason why those who choose to not accept that answer. However, where do people discuss race without being judged when they say something wrong? Sometimes even comedians can’t even make a joke without severe repercussions.

No party or President of the United States is alone in being the target of hatred and ridicule.

I have found the rhetoric and vitriol directed toward the Obamas quite disturbing over the last six and a half years. Many of President Obama’s most ardent supporters, however, mistakenly suggest that only his presidency has been the target of hatred, ridicule, animosity and divisive rhetoric by the opposition. Certainly, there is a racial component to some who criticize President Obama and his family. However, examine what was said and continues to be said regarding the Clintons and George W. Bush. 

I do believe the intensity on the right is by far more intense, but I vividly remember the bitterness of the '04 elections and the depressing aftermath. The nastiness by the left toward Bush was atrocious and unhelpful. Some critics incessantly referred to his stupidity, also calling him the anti-Christ, calling into question his patriotism and intentions without much proof or evidence to back up those claims. 

The far right and the politically correct becoming defensive and overly controlling is not the most effective response to hateful speech or religious persecution.

It's all a cycle that is perpetuated by the media, and elected officials shouldn't instigate nor perpetuate it for their own political gain. Both sides are guilty of taking political advantage over mistakes and missteps of leaders, officials and individuals. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to have an open, honest and sincere debate about policy as a direct result. 

Instead of congressional investigations being used to uncover the truth, these have turned into political witch hunts to score political points and serve up red meat to the respective base. Again, I would say one party is more guilty of utilizing the tools of Congress and government for this purpose, but every American is responsible for holding Washington accountable.

Even now as Texas floods once again and rightly requests assistance from FEMA in response, the hypocrisy by public officials who have stoked the fears and paranoia of voters as recently as the last few months is on full display. Governor Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz both have allowed and even fostered the belief that the federal government was possibly invading Texas with the summer Jade Helm 16 exercises. Ted Cruz even denied disaster relief to Hurricane Sandy victims just a few years ago. 

This is the problem with public officials who are not only disingenuous but allow the hatred of their voters to run roughshod over the public good. These are not public servants. When someone is elected, they are not supposed to just do the bidding of the voters that elected them; they are supposed to work diligently for the public good.

What we need in this country is more dialogue, not less. We need more speech, not less. We need more voting, not less. We need more openness, not less. We need more inclusiveness, not less. 

This is the United States of America, after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment