I’ve been encouraged by recent conversations with a Republican friend of mine. We’ve had the kind of healing conversations that I believe are a must for us to be able to come together as a country to do the hard work and sacrifice necessary to save the planet. It’s important to note that while we agree on what needs to happen to unite the United States once again, we differ in our assessment of what led us to the current state of affairs. I said to him that the past is only useful to the extent that it can be used to put us on the right path going forward. This means that as we work toward remedying our immediate problems we must continue to discuss and debate our history until we reach a consensus on how we must interpret our past going forward, in my opinion. I believe this is so, because it is necessary before we can truly embrace each other as brothers and sisters.
What I found interesting about our last conversation is that my friend described my last post (Chapter 156 – To My Dear White Republican Friend) as angry in its tone. I found that fascinating because my mood when I wrote it could better be described as that of desperation, frustration and despair. I find his to be an interesting reaction. It seems anything critical of one’s group or tribe is interpreted as anger or hostility. The knee-jerk reaction of most human beings to anger or hostility is to defend against it. I think that entire scenario crystalizes our struggle with race in America. First we express our feelings about it, the person we are expressing it to denies and defends, followed by shut down of all communication between the parties involved. However in this case, my friend and I stayed in the conversation without dismissing each other’s opinion. As the conversation wore on, we gradually came to a consensus on many issues. In fact you could say the more we talked the more we searched for what we could agree on about all the issues we discussed.
If you are thinking about daring to communicate with someone on the opposite side of your position on the politics of race relations in the United States, I would like to offer you a strategy that might help you move the conversation along. I told my daughter about my conversation with my friend and she reminded me of something Isabelle Wilkerson (author of American Caste – The origins of Our Discontent) and Hanna-Nicole Jones (author of The 1619 Project) both indicated as necessary to put our racial past in it’s proper perspective. They both suggested, in one way or another, that we no longer refer to the black people of antebellum America as slaves. In the lexicon of American language the term slave congers up the image of someone who is only ¾ human. We should instead refer to them as what they actually were, which was forced laborers or enslaved people. Similarly, we should not refer to the massive agricultural complexes they were forced to work in as Plantations. We should instead call them what they were, which was forced labor camps. The term plantation congers up the romanticized myth of the gentile, “Gone With The Wind” south of happy slaves and chivalrous white gentlemen. This kind of myth of the old south is why today we have weddings and graduation parties at plantation venues. Can you imagine the Germans doing such things at concentration camps in Germany? What we currently refer to, as plantations should be displayed as monuments to a grave injustice, just as the concentration camps in Germany.
Those are the kinds of myths and fantasies about our racial past that make it difficult for all Americans to band together and do what is necessary to save our country and our planet. It is our tendency to defend these myths about ourselves that render us ripe for manipulation by anyone who means to do us harm, foreign or domestic.