Friday, November 11, 2016

The Death of Innocence

We are standing on a precipice, contemplating our mortality, foot raised to take the next step and hoping it will not come down on a land mine placed there by our own previous hesitation. I walk into classrooms where the students sit in anticipation, dark pools for eyes, red rimmed from crying, or steely-eyed, defensively imagining that I am going to shame them for their choice.

I surprise them both by not talking about the election, but rather talking about the Power Elite, the history of our nation, the ideologies of White Supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism that have always guided both. I tell them this was inevitable and therefore predictable. ("You plant beans, you get beans. No matter what you thought you were planting, we know we planted beans because that's the crop we got.") Nobody did this to us. And we will all suffer.

The steely-eyed lose some of their belligerence and look more doubtful. It is a likelihood they hadn't considered. "Black people, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, and poor people -- young and old -- are going to suffer even worse than ever," I say, "But they've suffered before. They know how to do it. They know how to survive physically, psychologically, and emotionally. They are prepared -- well and bitterly prepared -- to face and live through this. But unless you are part of the Power Elite, unless you were born into millions, millions, even if you don't belong to one of those groups, you are going to suffer, too. And you don't expect that. You aren't prepared to understand, accept, or survive it. And how you will respond to your own pain, we cannot know."

"I suspect that those who will suffer most are those like me who are White and professional and have of late been able to pay our bills. We have had the luxury of believing that we are untouchable and we are careening into a time when we will be forced to know in terrifying ways that we are not and never were.

"We are not the first people to face this in history. Read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492-Present. Or Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano. Or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. By the time you finish one of them, let alone all three, you will have long since quit reeling or celebrating and gotten a better perspective on where we are.

"Not only are we not the first people to deal with this situation, but we're not by a long shot alone. People all over the world -- and most particularly in Europe -- are suffering already under the boot of fascism. So this is not really a national dilemma. It is a global one. When there are 85 billionaires who own the same amount of wealth as three billion humans on the planet (the poorest half of the entire human race), would you really expect those 85 billionaires to care what happens to the rest of us? Eighty-five people would fit in this classroom with seats left over. How did they get that rich? What kind of system would allow 85 people to become that rich while the bulk of the human race starves?

"I long to protect you all -- even the ones who don't like me, who don't think I know what I'm talking about, who evaluate me as 'retarted' and 'a traitor to my race,' who say I hate White people, that I hate men, that I make them feel 'uncomfortable' or 'bad about themselves,' that I wish all my students were Black. I long to protect you all from what is coming, but I can't. We are in this now together. We will be tried by fire and when this chapter ends, we will none of us be who we were. Whatever shred of innocence we each once had, whatever cloak of denial we have clung to, whatever desperate hope we counted on to allow us to feel special, will have disappeared forever and we will simply be the latest in a saga of lives unfolding.

"We will play our parts in history and pass on into oblivion with those who've gone before. We have rushed to embrace a time of horror and now we will learn what the cost of our arrogance is. May we meet our collective future open to learning -- finally -- that we stand together, honoring each other's humanity as full citizens or we will none of us be citizens at all."


Brotha Wolf said...

Whether they know it or not, poor whites need to come to terms with their mentality, that a rich white guy who peddles in division really doesn't care about them. He's not their savior. And they need to wake up to that truth. There are some who have, but many, many more are still blinded by race-based politics.

changeseeker said...

I agree. But I think the Whites who are NOT poor and have never realized that the two-party system is a colossal fail and was never intended to serve the mass public are the ones most in need of consciousness-raising. They're so invested in the system, they don't even realize what just happened. They talk about "democracy" and "the American way of life" and "respecting the President" and being "against violence" while there is no democracy and the President doesn't even respect himself let alone anyone else and the violence he has welcomed into this country is threatening to rain down on us like thunder. Everybody but rich White men have been suffering mad violence for 400 years and we're supposed to be disgusted by a broken Chase Bank window? Nah.

Black Sage said...

It absolutely amazes me that poor white people and even the so-called middle class members continually hitch themselves politically to conservative white men as if its’ somehow beneficial to them. White politicians say that they are looking out for poor whites simply to get their votes and place them in office. The promises made to poor whites are at bottom, empty assurances that never bear fruit. The sad part about all of this is that the majority of them haven’t figured that they’re literally being taken for a ride.

veganelder said...

The PBS documentary that included the phrase "the power of an illusion" maybe says more than it knew with the usage of that particular phrase. What's sometimes lost in the thinking about this debacle is that letting go of an illusion is disorienting and scary...and the relinquishing of this particular illusion has the added feature of having to come to grips with not only with your own awfulness but the astonishing and dismaying awfulness of your white ancestors. It's not incomprehensible that so many of us white people cling so desperately that illusion. Growing up (letting go of false innocence) is hard and painful...apparently too hard and too painful for many of us white folks. Jeez.

changeseeker said...

Black Sage and Veganelder: Yes. And yes. We always had the option to learn hard or learn easy. Apparently, we've chosen to learn hard. But learn we will or die off we must.