Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Words Will Never Hurt Me

My father could tell stories that would make it hard for you to sleep at night. But then again, he grew up in the Deep South before the Civil Rights movement, when ignoring the mockery of white people could, at times, be a very dangerous thing to do. Not because the jokes that whites told about blacks were themselves dangerous, but because they could be a prelude to violence. To borrow a phrase, "Those who people would attack, they first dehumanize." But here's the thing, to my understanding - it's not a causal relationship. Nor it is an ironclad correlation. In my father's time, or my grandfathers', the fact that a group of white guys was talking among themselves and laughing at you could very well presage violence. Today? Not so much. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but today, it's newsworthy.

But while these things may have happened in the past, many people who remember them are still alive and they passed those memories on to their children and their children's children. After all, when I was a child, my parents had no inkling of what 2016 would look like, and I couldn't even conceptualize a time so far in the future. So they didn't teach me to live in the world of today. The world they taught me to live in was a combination of the one they found themselves in, the one they had grown up in and the one that they had been prepared for by their own parents. And they did this because this is what they understood.

I suspect that many parents end up doing the same. And so a lot of people wind up living with one foot in the past, and fearing that as long as the vestiges of the past are still visible that the other foot may join it. That takes a long time to die. But so too does the past itself. We may think of the bad old days as dead and gone, but its not as if the people who made them that way were suddenly swallowed whole by the Earth. And even if they were, their ideas didn't die with them. There are people younger than myself who would gladly return the United States to a time that I'm not old enough to remember, but have heard enough about to understand that I never want to visit.

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to offense, people only have the level of power over us that we have learned to give them. And sometimes the people who taught us those lessons did so with the best of intentions. And while the best thing that we can do for ourselves is un-learn them, that process is neither quick, easy or painless.

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