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Fear and Courage - Pt 1.

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I have been thinking a lot on racism lately. Racism, and her always-lurking father, Fear. I have begun thinking of these things more critically, and more often, since our war on Afghanistan. And I have been doing so because it is called for. In the last few years, and it began immediately after the WTC attacks, I have noted a rise in racist thought and expressions from too many people. In our very human fear and need to survive, we have traveled a long way down the road to alienating a lot of humans who are scared just like ourselves, and to aggravating the racism (tribal instinct?) already latent in all of us. This has ballooned since the introduction of HR 4437, which of course, is a natural progression following the instinct to be safe from the Strange and Unknown Other.

Most Americans share one thing: we come from other lands. Even though many of us were born here, our families came here on boats, by foot, or as a captive. We came here from another place, not from a stork, or a hole in the space-time continuum. So we all share a struggle for the "right" to be on American soil, somewhere in our past. In our histories, people have shed blood or tears for our citizenship. We may no longer see them at the family barbecue, but it was not you and I who struggled for our right to say "I am an American." You and I, like heirs in a wealthy family, simply benefit from our birth here; not by any work or sacrifice of our own.

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Some of us, however, are closer to that struggle. Some of us have swum across streams of sewage, nearly starved in the desert, been shot at, or brutally beat in our attempts to make it to America --and only years ago. Some of us work our fingers to the bone day in and day out feeding our children, hoping one day to be a True Citizen, and fearing the bill or law or policeman who might turn it all upside down; even though we may already pay taxes, and help the big American Economic Machine to chug along, doing all its deeds; even though the notion of American patriotism is often far stronger in the breast of an immigrant than in that of an apathetic, comfortable, and otherwise-successful natural-born citizen.

Other American residents have been here for generations and don't think about it, anymore; they imagine themselves American-to-tha-Bone, as if their family has been here since the days the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria docked. As if when the throngs of people began arriving and stepping off the vessels that carried them here, the land was pristine and awaiting their use and their flag and their new laws and judgment.

A smaller number of that group even thinks the pregnant mothers escaping Mexico's sometimes-cruel conditions should be shot dead in the attempt. There's a video game circulating on the Internet that allows a xenophobe to fulfill this sick little fantasy vicariously (and sorry, I'm not linking). I have sometimes become personally acquainted with such unfortunate views and attitudes by way of email, and usually after writing one of my essays on the topic. These nasty fragments of American fear and hatred are not the majority, which is good. The majority of Americans, Wolf, realize the diverse makeup and history of America are what make America what she is. Tolerance and acceptance are far more powerful and wise attributes than fear and intolerance. And those who understand America's core (in my opinion) see America as a wise and evolved soul. Additionally, such hate-filled ranters do nothing but confirm their own critics' condemnation by sending out their vitriolic missives. But I suspect they lack the insight to realize this.

The Metaphor on Terror is fertile breeding ground for this type of intolerance, fear, and hate. For some of us remain in the "Fight or Flight" reactionary state that naturally follows such catastrophe. And from what this writer has seen, racism has been given a mighty platform as of late. This is difficult to prevent, I imagine, in a time when the country is mired down in a (colloquial and metaphorical but never formally declared) war with darker-skinned people that is producing literal corpses, and who are purported to be sneaking amongst us, and lurking about in our ports, our neighborhoods, and our telephone conversations. We are continually handed this irrational fear by those who profit from the violence it breeds.

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I don't think the racism I speak of --the type that people catch and radiate, like trapped animals --is born of evil. Like all racism, its father is Fear. And watching almost three thousand people die three thousand times on television does a lot to sow irrational fear and fury in the hearts of even the most reasonable people. Especially when their leaders feed the flames of this destructive thought process.

I am a Survivor. And I don't mean of the 9/11 attacks. I mean of some threatening and dangerous situations in my past. But I don't stop with the identification of escaped victimhood. That is not enough for me. I am not only a Survivor, but I am a Thriver. And to me, that means I do not lay down or run away after I am delivered a threat or a blow. After such an event, I begin thinking of what measure I should take to protect me and Mine, and what measures I should take to affect my path so that I can continue to grow and seek liberty, a productive life, and the pursuit of my and my family's happiness. But just as Fear is the father of racism, Fear is the Mother of Violence, which Peter Gabriel has so eloquently reminded us with his song of the same name. (And so we must assume that Fear spawns many crippled children, and they hold hands in their mission to obscure light and true freedom.) The truth of that song can be seen in the instance of my cheering the attack on Afghanistan from my New York City apartment, in September of 2001. I was rooting for that attack because I was terrified. I am not even engaging the argument of whether or not we were justified in that instance. I am simply telling you my personal reasons for wanting violence at the moment. This is a confession, not a brag. I was scared, and like a wounded cat, I was all claws. And fear. I even stopped picking up my mail after a local post office was hit with Anthrax. It just hung around outside my door, like the faint whiff of charred matter that laced the city's air for weeks. I understand being afraid. I understand wanting to be safe. I understand fearing the Other.

So...of whom should we be afraid? Everyone outside our borders? Everyone who physically resembles the people the government claims attacked us on that horrible day? Everyone who sounds like the hijackers? Muslims? All non-Americans? All who do not agree with Bush's paradigm of a never-ending war on an invisible enemy? Fans of the Colbert Report? Arab-looking people with cameras on the subway platform? Chinese tourists who snap too many pictures of trains, or banks? Cab drivers with turbans? Delivery men who have scraggly, dark, oily-looking beards and carry the boxes very gingerly? Bloggers who hate the White House occupants? People who sing our Anthem in their own language? Mexicans standing on the corners, hoping for a day's work? Mexicans who send money across the border? Mexicans sending money to Egypt? Mexicans, themselves? Egyptians?

It's a tough line to draw. Fear has a way of growing when you feed it even a crumb. And rather than enlarging the spirit or the mind, fear darkens and shrinks our options; brings us to a room where we are backed against a corner and the enemy is approaching.

This is not life, to me. And this is Part III of my formal declaration to the world and my own country and countrymen:

I will not live in a dark corner. I will not live afraid. I will not fear so easily. I refuse to hate so easily, and especially on distinctions like what part of land you are standing on, or what side of an imaginary line you are standing, or what color your skin is. I will not buy my allegiance wholesale, have it fed to me by Fox-Pravda; or stammer, stare and shout at the screen for your minute of hate. Look elsewhere for captives.

I make up my own mind. I do it using my heart and my thoughts and my experience. I will (and do) decide to save my hate, my repulsion, and my righteous rage for those who lie to me, who use me for their own purposes, or who profit from the pain and suffering of other humans.

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This includes any non-American who tries to attack my people in the name of a holy war, and any American politician who encourages and aids such attacks using similar justification. This most certainly does not include immigrants chasing a dream that our nation has stickered upon every television in the world, or carved into our statues and symbols of America. After all, why do we declare so proudly that at the base of our might is the notion that you ought to "send us your tempest-tossed," if all we plan to do is throw them in prison for being tossed harder than the others? And all in the name of a war that isn't even worthy of being declared as much by the aggressors?


Part II to integrate my coverage of a Human Chain Immigration Support event in New York City, May 1, 2006 (yesterday), where I took the above photo.

 

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