Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Madness of a Nation

“Most people cling to their guilts and terrors and crimes, compounding them hour by hour and day by day, and are more likely to be changed from without than from within.”
--James Baldwin, essayist, novelist, activist

“The subject resides in my memory like old road-kill…Recalling all of this presents an onerous task. I am getting near the end of the diving board.”
--James Von Brunn, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Shooter

This is not the post I wanted to compose. This is not the post I had scheduled to run this morning. But this is the post I feel I must write; I must confront this issue head-on if I am to move sanely through my day.

This morning I am somewhat angry; I am very dismayed.

Yesterday, James Von Brunn, a frustrated artist, writer, and all around angry man, burst into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, shooting and killing a guard.

Today, most major news outlets label him a white supremacist. In doing so, they can then decry Mr. Von Brunn as an anomaly, as someone who lives and thinks far out of the mainstream. But is he such an anomaly? Or is he simply the representative of a school of thought prevalent in our society. Think about it. How many people think and believe as Mr. Von Brunn does but just have not decided to write long, rambling treatises or post their beliefs to a website or burst into a place dedicated to peace and remembrance guns-a-blazin’?

I would conjecture that there are many more Von Brunns out there. But they exist in anonymity, silently allowing their hate to slowly fester, to slowly build to a boiling point until they reach a point of no return, or as Von Brunn so eloquently phrases it, “near[ing] the end of the diving board.” But such is the madness of our nation.

We have come a long way as a nation. Even so, perhaps no one was as surprised as I when we elected an African American as president. And I’ll probably be criticized for say this, but I am even more surprised that there have not been more threats on his life than those reported. But that is the scary part.

I know that there are those out there who are unsettled by President Obama's victory. I know that there are those out there who hate unabated, whose rage simmers just beneath the surface, waiting to emerge in the form of full-throated violence. The increase in white supremacist activity and membership perhaps bears this out.

But most of us are lulled to sleep by President Obama’s victory. Most of us think the nation has finally arrived. Most of us have fully bought into that notion of a post-racial society. But don’t be fooled. Keep in mind that even during our nation’s darkest racial hours, even during the most virulent expressions of hate and racism, the mainstream of the nation denied there was even a problem. The mainstream of the nation imputed the unrest to those dwelling on the margins. However, the source of the problem can be found firmly in the mainstream and its unwillingness or inability to read the signs.

Racism, hatred, and bigotry still poison our nation; we have come a long way, but we still have far to go. And I’m afraid that it will get far worse before it gets better.

I in no way intend to be a prophet of doom, but you see, we have yet to reach that crisis point, that point of catharsis, that decisive moment in which we must decide just what we would like our nation to be and in which direction we would like our nation to go. We need to be very honest with ourselves, and those good people, the ones who usually remain silent as not to make waves, must find the courage to stand up, to speak out, to encourage confrontation so that we might truly be able to work for genuine, enduring change.

Until that time, we are just marking time, addled by our madness.


Rocky Horror said...

The only small comfort I have is that the hardest core racists like this dude are dying off--who will kill someone on sight, just because of race/ethnicity with no regrets. They actually feel justified...may they all burn.

Lyn Marie said...

I'm not sure if the hard core racists are dying off, after all the last election show how confused people are about race. Our President was called "not Black enough" in the beginning, as if only hip hop artists are the true barometer of "Blackness". There was a time in our country when being black was not limited by the slang we spoke.
The covert racists are the ones we should fear, the ones with a microphone, radio or t.v show that spout racists beliefs under the guise of so called fairness. After all, the newest idea is that racism doesn't exist because we have a Black President. If only it was that simple!

Max Reddick said...

@ Rocky Horror

I don't agree that the hardest core racists are all dying off. Their ranks are definitely getting thinner, but even if you end up with just a handful of virulent racists, that's all it takes. Sometimes just a few nutjobs convinced of their inherent superiority is worse than an army of just casual haters.

@ Lyn Marie

I agree about the covert racists. Those are the ones who sit passively by while inside they are boiling with rage. And then when it blows, we get an incident like that I speak of.

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