Wednesday, November 16, 2016


A lot, I think, of what we understand to be racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry are really just garden-variety cruelty, given outlet against easily-identifiable Acceptable Targets. When I was a child, I thought that I was surrounded by racists, and to a degree, I was - children began to shun me because I was visibly Different from them. But most of the mean words and the nasty actions they would perpetrate as we grew up together weren't them acting out over the end of Jim Crow, or the recent triumph of the Civil Rights movement. They were due to cruelty being a form of social currency, both at school and ad home. Cruelty and meanness were markers of power, and being able to inflict oneself on those one found a reason to dislike was considered a virtue.

When I look at the world of today, and see the things that have gone on since the election, I am reminded of these things because our generation are the parents of most of today's young people. And we couldn't see our way clear to completely unlearning the mean-spiritedness of our own parents, aunts and uncles. So why should they? The same people who spouted racial epithets as easily as breathing while claiming racism was a thing of the past are now leaders in our society. Why should we think that they grew out of the need to denigrate others to advance themselves?

The ability to take deliberate pleasure in the suffering of another may not be a uniquely human trait, but it is a common human trait. And there is no easier target than one whose vulnerabilities you know well.

No comments: