Friday, May 3, 2013

What Goes Around

At some time when I was in high school, it occurred to me that, for many people in the United States (and perhaps the world), there was only one appropriate way for oppressed, mistreated and marginalized Americans (people) to behave - a grovelling obsequiousness, following all of the rules of those that injured in them in a desperate hope that they would be recognized as worthy to be brought into the "in-group," and allowed to come in from the cold. Rage, anger and a desire to redress things if they will not be redressed for you are not allowed. Instead they bring retribution and further oppression, mistreatment and marginalization.

Over the intervening decades, I haven't always held onto that particularly bleak view of American (or human) nature, but it comes back to me from time to time. It moved in again most recently when I was reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Fear of a Black President" from last September, and many of the comments left on James Hamblin's "Have You Ever Tried to Force-Feed a Captured Human?"

As I've grown older (or simply old) I've come to the conclusion that the most enduring legacy of oppression, mistreatment and marginalization is the enduring fear of oppression, mistreatment and marginalization. Societies and nations change, sometimes radically, but that history never really goes away. There is always a suspicion that there is a cadre of people who are just waiting to turn back the clock (say, to 1850), and that despite the uplifting words of the society at large, the rush to accept lives of privilege paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of others will erase all of the hard-earned gains of years, decades and centuries. As much as I often feel this fear is misplaced, as an indifferent student of history and at-times appalled student of the six o'clock news, I can sympathize with it.

But I also try to keep in mind that the fear of oppression, mistreatment and marginalization also exists in the minds of the people who were historically behind the oppression, mistreatment and marginalization in the first place. Hence White American conservatives are easily roused to fear by Black rage, the potential anger of Guantanamo detainees becomes a reason for continuing their indefinite detention and a Men's Rights Activists movement casts themselves as victims of aggressive feminism. Although I must admit that I less sympathy in those cases. Where their fears to actually come true, and the streets began to run red with blood, I don't know that I would be willing to pay the price of intervention.

And that, of course, is the problem.

No comments: