Because of what happened between Bernie and Hillary’s supporters in 2018, I find myself worried about some kind of repeat performance. I’ve taken to encouraging FB friends to not “hate on” Democratic candidates. Like the one(s) you like, post about them, help the rest of us understand why, work hard for them, but just keep it positive and don’t talk shit about the others. At the end of the day (November, 2020) Vote for the Democratic candidate NO MATTER whether they were your favorite or least favorite Democratic candidate. That’s my position. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We need to “up” our game. We NEED a Democratic win in 2020!
So much has happened since I wrote the post (that starts with the fourth paragraph) a few days after the event happened in mid-January. The post was filed (forgotten? let go of?) on my desk top as other events and my own meanderings took center stage in my mind. This week I resurrected it for my writing class because even though it’s a “dated” news story, the issues it brought up are still ever-present real time issues.
It’s amazing how differently we see and hear and understand things. It’s painful when we don’t agree. Here’s the experience I had with this incident a few months ago. And now, I don’t even know what happened to all those involved… if anybody apologized, if any understanding was reached. What happened to the main “players” in the drama? Do you know? (How can we possibly keep up with one national shit storm after another?)
January 19, 2019. A variety of groups were at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. Three groups in particular.
The Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI). A small group, a handful, really, out to protest and/or evangelize — a strange message quasi-biblical, homophobic, name-calling.
A larger group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic high school. They were mostly white, mostly middle class (or appearing so), a rather conspicuous few wearing red MAGA hats. There was one black classmate, who received some particular haranguing from the BHI group.
There was a Native American man named Nathan Phillips, along with several other Native Americans who had been there at the Indigenous Peoples March.
There was verbal, but no physical, sparring between the teenage boys and the BHI. Then Mr. Phillips intentionally walked in-between the two groups and ended up face-to-face with one particular MAGA hat-wearing teenager.
From there, on a national level, all holy hell broke loose in terms of interpretation of events. Reactions were swift. It was said the boy was smirking.
I looked at the photo. Oh my god! The boy was smirking in the face of a Native American elder. This was terrible. Then, other accusations beside the smirk were levied. All true, about American racism, white male privilege, etc etc. It was all true in general. I wondered what was true of the silent, smirking boy. I kept returning to look at the picture. And then the videos, from this and that angle. I was searching for the meaning of the encounter, but then, for the life of me I couldn’t make out a smirk. I couldn’t see the hatred and disregard that others could see. Maybe I was just TOO conditioned by white supremacy, even if I have spent my entire life hating it.
I kept looking and listening. Finally I tentatively and cautiously, because I felt scared and had to gather my courage, wrote on Facebook. I disagree. I’m seeing it differently. I can’t believe how hard it felt to write that. I was afraid of rebuke from my friends, from people with whom I so often feel confidently and happily in accord.
A few people welcomed my dissent. Others didn’t. More videos surfaced. The boy had received death threats. Mr. Phillips gave his perspective. He said he felt endangered once he moved between the two groups; he put the blame on the boy(s).
There are so many questions regarding this incident. Whatever the outcome, for me, it is already a mighty teaching, still unfolding. I wonder if we’ll come to know the whole truth? Or that there may be several truths, even conflicting ones?
There is a lesson here in how quickly we move to conclusions when it reinforces our own deeply-held narrative. How we truly see things both from the conditioning of our group’s identity and from our own individual experiences and conditioning. For me personally, there was a teaching in recognizing how uncomfortable I felt bringing my own truth to the table when my perception wasn’t in accord with several friends and the general narrative and understanding we share.
It’s not a new feeling for me, but heightened in this moment and with this incident in our particularly fraught, polarized (and polarizing) times.
I used to feel this as part of the Left, when I had questions or criticisms about certain “Revolutionary” movements that other friends whole-heartedly endorsed. When I had questions about Cuba after living there, or about China, or about our own ways of inter-acting with each other in the Left. Usually I remained mute, but painfully so.
I’m talking about how we accord each other —all of us — the respect we ALL deserve, while being responsible citizens of our communities, nation-states, and the world. I’m wondering how we can contemplate difficult issues respectfully IN CONVERSATION with each other.
We all have our amygdalas. It’s our fight or flight inheritance. Our species’ ancestors — the ones we’re descended from — were the most reactive ones. The calm quiet ones were someone else’s dinner. We each carry our perspectives, interpretations, and our sense of the “other”.
Being overly judgmental OR overly conflict-averse is a hard way to have a conversation. Can we hold off assigning blame, guilt and shame? Can we actually listen deeply while allowing the other person to finish what they’re saying? Can we give their thought due consideration?
One problem is we tend to hold tight to our opinions. This has been so since the Buddha’s time (2500 years ago) when he wrote (I paraphrase): people with opinions go around the world bothering others. Bernie Glassman, founder of Zen Peacemakers would say, “Just my opinion, Man.” Holding a little looser.
Mary Oliver wrote “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”