I recently heard a statement by Michael Moore, the Oscar winning documentary producer, that made me think of something I felt for a long time and even spoken about in previous chapters in this blog (see Chapter 41). The statement was (paraphrasing), “America is a country founded on genocide and sustained by slavery”. He was obviously referring to the fact that the indigenous Native American population was almost completely wiped out by the early settlers, who then went on to prosper on African slave labor. What struck me about his comment was that its assertion is something that all Americans know but refuse to own. It is our unwillingness to own these facts about ourselves that prevents us from uniting as a country. White America continues to deny any responsibility for, or see any relevance to slavery and its relation to today’s world and Black Americans continue to pursue anti-cultural life styles to prove they don’t care what White America thinks.
Like most male Americans, I strongly identify with the roles Clint Eastwood plays in his westerns and with Mel Gibson in his role as William Wallace in Brave Heart. But when I consider their ultra conservative attitudes in real life in lieu of their charismatic persona on screen, I have to say they appear to own who they are and don’t see their political attitudes as contrary to their hero’s image. They may be examples of the few people who understand the role history plays in our every day lives.
History tells us that every great civilization built itself on the backs of slave laborers – so when viewed from an historical standpoint, there is nothing for anyone to ashamed of, slave or slave owner. To use the classic Godfather (the movie) line, “It’s not personal, just business”. Heck, when I think of it that way, even I don’t get the usual surge of adrenaline I feel at the mere mention of the word slavery. The problem comes when we forget that we are an evolving species. Nature has endowed us with minds and intellect that we must use properly. As I’ve said before, our intellect can be the source of our salvation or the source of our doom. Primordial man and all that followed have always divided themselves into tribes for survival. There has always been a perceived need for man to compete against other men for seemingly scant resources and land. Europeans divided themselves into English, French, Spanish, Germans, etc. and fought each other for centuries until technology made it possible for them to encounter other people with more superficial differences easily distinguishable from there European cousins and eventually came in conflict with them. Prior to England’s ability to circumvent the globe, a Frenchman was as repulsive to an Englishman and a black man is to a white supremist today. The big step, the quantum leap if you will, that mankind will have to make to survive is the realization that we are all one tribe. Physiologically, spiritually, any way you want to look at it, we are all the same. We must give up the myths and legends we’ve made up about each other if we are to survive to the next millennium. The notion that white men are favored by God to rule over all other men and the world is not only an archaic way of looking at life but a prescription for our own extinction. There is too much global intercommunication to support that idea. The commonality of ideas and desires we display all over the Internet every day exposes as a lie, the idea that race or ethnicity renders us fundamentally different from one another. Civilization will not sit still for any international arrangement based on that concept for very long. What 911 should really have taught us are two things:
1. One person willing to give up his own life can misuse technology the kill thousands, and eventually millions of people.
2. You can’t intimidate grown people forever.
After the first Iraq war, we were full of ourselves and thought we had once and for all put all third world up starts in their place forever. We thought that our display of smart bombs flying through the doorways of elevator shafts would impress the Arabs to the extent that they would never again think of defying the great United States. Of course, we learned that wasn’t exactly the case. Yes we came back and destroyed their entire country, but at what cost to the entire Western world and us? What we need at this point in history is leadership that enrolls us in the concept that we have more to gain by seeing ourselves as Americans first and foremost before any subgroup of Americana, be it based on race, religion or sexual orientation. Furthermore, such leadership will need to inspire the idea that seeing yourself as American above all other things can never be in conflict with any other belief you may have. That leadership will cause us to remember that the United States of America is not just a collection of land and resources but an idea. The idea is that when people of all variety come together for the common goal of making a better world for themselves, respecting each other differences as long as those differences do no harm to others, all of humanity benefits.
I’m going to recommend an exercise that can help you visualize what the leadership I described would be like. I would suggest you even make it a parlor game for your family and friends. The name of the game is called Describe The Leader. For the purposes of the game, you must list all the characteristics of a leader who would inspire all Americans, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation, to put the welfare of America before that of any subgroup they belong or philosophy they believe in. I’ve done this myself, and I found it to be most helpful in relieving the depression I feel when confronted with today’s political environment. My list goes as follows:
1. Must see all the problems our nation is confronted with as American problems and not problems related to a person’s race or ethnicity. For example, the fact that substandard schools and imprisonment disproportionately effect minorities of color would not deter this person from employing all the resources available to the government to end the problem. He/she would reason that though not disproportionately represented, there are as many if not more, white people receiving substandard education and being incarcerated than minorities of color.
2. Must be committed to seeing the things that the overwhelming majority of Americans say they want, such as affordable healthcare for all Americans, retirement without being impoverished and sensible rules for obtaining firearms, actually happen.
3. Must be a trend setter, perhaps even creating a fashion style that is uniquely American, so that if you dress this way, you are making a statement that before anything else, you are American. Maybe its time we start dressing in the one-piece apparel we see people wearing in all those futuristic movies.
4. Must genuinely like humanity in all its imperfections. That doesn’t seem like much to ask. I think at one time, we assumed that of all our leaders.
5. Must have an obvious bias and proven track record for service. Government work above all else is service. We seemed to have forgotten that as evidenced by the recent trend of electing and appointing only multimillionaires and billionaires to government service and allowing someone refusing to publicly display his tax returns to be president.
I could go on, but the object of the game is to see how many of these characteristics each participant can list and how many of those listed all the participants in the game agree would be appealing to the overwhelming majority of Americans.
If you decide to play this game be bold. Don’t be limited by what you think everyone else in the room would agree with. The whole point is to exchange ideas about the qualities of leadership that will best serve the country. I realize in this polarized environment we are living through, this may all seem pie in the sky to you. But in the words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And [America and] the world will be as one.”