Kicking Each Other Out of a Sinking Ship

“I have the people behind me and the people are my strength.” – Huey Newton

“Divide and Conquer.” –Julius Caesar

A prominent feature of the recent congressional hearings investigating the American Muslim community has been the inspiring defense that some congressmen and women have offered to this embattled minority population. These individuals have not been themselves Muslim, but they have come from minority groups which have some past legacy of oppression in the United States. In other words, they understand what it feels like to be hated and targeted by the government for who they are and they won’t stand for it happening to anyone else. These people are enlightened and they see society the way it is, looking beyond tribalism and showing solidarity with others whose experience they recognize as analogous to their own. Unfortunately, many of us fail to see this perspective and instead engage in destructive behaviours which harm each other and prevent real unity and strength from manifesting. If there is ever going to be real progress this needs to change.

If you didn’t know, rising rear and hatred of “the other” is a characteristic typical of a society that is losing confidence in itself and is looking for scapegoats upon whom to direct its anger and frustration. What is going on today is not unique to this point in history. Times of economic uncertainty and upheaval are always dangerous for those who are identifiable minorities or who in any way are considered to be outside of “the mainstream”. These are the people who make easy targets for hatred and vitriol and who serve as a useful diversion to be utilized by the ruling class to distract from their own failings. I’d like to make a point that if you are a member of one of the targeted and exploited classes of society it is in your best interests to stop indulging in destructive behaviours which allow others to sow division between you.

Imagine a world where CAIR, the NAACP, GLAAD and the NCLR operated as a bloc, supporting each other and their respective communities. Instead of being atomized and divided, realizing their shared interests and recognizing how they are inextricably bound together. This would be real, formidable strength in society. To a degree this does manifest, but far too often regular people focus more on their differences than on the fact that they are fighting the same battles. People often burn bridges instead of building them while foolishly continuing to believe that their invitation to the country club will be on the way if they just keep playing their defined role.

Do not delude yourself, no one is winning and no one has made it. If things are ever going to change, the first thing we as people need to do is refuse to be led into tearing each other down; either by our ignorant, failed leaders, or by the clever machinations of those who want us to be divided, distracted, and conquered. If you believe yourself to be living in an eternal, unchangeable, contented present, you need to wake up and take stock of the powerful forces in society that are soaking the population in gasoline, anticipating the next “event” that will come along to strike the match.

I’d like to point out a couple of backwards, ignorant things people do that prevent them from collectively getting ahead. Believe me when I say nothing will ever change for the better unless people stop destroying each other in these ways. No one will ever hand you an improvement in your circumstances if you do nothing to eliminate the destructive tendencies in your own behaviour. If you don’t, the only thing that will ever be “handed” to you is more deprivation, oppression, and humiliation from the people who are profiting from your loss.

Let’s identify some of the destructive tendencies which keep us pointlessly and dangerously divided:

Refusing to Condemn, or Participating in, Bigotry: When you are accustomed to being the “most hated” due to circumstances beyond your control, it is tempting to kick up your feet, take a breath, and watch as society finds a new target to feast upon. It can even be tempting to throw in a few shots of your own, so that for once you can feel as though you are part of the mainstream. Not only is this a poor moral choice, it is stupid and counterproductive. Once interest in the current target wears thin, eventually the target will become you again, and no one you did not stand in solidarity with will be there to stand with you when your time comes. If you’re from a class of people who have experience being discriminated against, it’s your duty to speak out against the discrimination and hatred of others, and to never, ever engage in it, lest you be a hypocrite of the worst kind. Keep in mind as well that when a fire gets started it’s hard to put it out, and there is no controlling whom it will eventually consume.

What’s more, people who are simultaneous targets and purveyors of bigotry expose themselves as arguably being worthy of discrimination; because “hey, they are just as bad!”. If you are of race X, religion Z, or sexual orientation Y and you are the recipient of hatred which you also direct at others, how are you any different from the people who discriminate against you? People who know what it’s like to be discriminated against at some time in their past are the ones who are almost always more sympathetic to others suffering discrimination, and they are often sticking up for you whether you’re aware of it or not.

If for example you’re Muslim and/or black, you have real enemies who would like to see you pushed to the absolute margins of society, or worse. If some people decide to behave like a homophobe or anti-Semite, besides being immoral, it makes it hard on your own community because it helps your enemies demonize you. It is a morally bankrupt and self destructive choice. People who are comfortable and who don’t have real enemies can afford to pick stupid fights (leaving the immorality of doing that aside), people who are already in a tenuous position further endanger themselves by doing this.

Keep in mind, if you are in any way different from “the mainstream”, you should have an attitude of live and let live towards others because that is what you are asking for yourself as well. Being a bigot is a good way of empowering those who are bigoted towards you, and of keeping yourself divided and disempowered. The best path is to speak out forcefully against hatred towards any group. You don’t diminish your own identity by protecting others, you burnish it. Remember to always be morally consistent, build bridges and display the strength of your character.

 

Hating One Another Over Ancient History: Let me be very clear, everyone should know their history, where they came from, how they got there and what the stories of their ancestors are. You should know who you are and where you stand vis-à-vis other people and you should feel free to view yourself as a part of an ongoing historical narrative. Having said this, if you are a minority in a Western society and you refuse to stand with other minorities because of something that happened in Country B, XYZ years ago, you’re making a terrible mistake and are playing right into the hands of the people trying to marginalize and destroy you today.

As I said, know your history, but look at yourself in terms of where you are now. Look at the people who generally share your experience, these are your people regardless of their backgrounds and you harm yourself if you join in demonization of them because you are forgetting that soon enough society’s vitriol is going to come back on you. Don’t let barriers in your mind stop you from reaching out to potential friends and allies.

Having said that, if you have a legitimate grievance over something that is going on today, that’s different. That should be confronted forcefully, and the people at the root of your grievance are likely targeting you anyways. But if you are digging through the history books simply looking for things to hate others over, or looking for things that validate your own perceived supremacy over others, I guarantee you will find them and that it won’t really help you. Don’t do this. Know your history, but focus on building the future instead of endlessly fighting over the past.

 

Lacking Self Awareness: As unique and seemingly insurmountable ones current predicament may be, many others have faced the same, or worse, problems, and they know how to deal with them. Post 9/11, when people did not know the extent of what the domestic backlash from the attacks would be, Japanese-Americans made a point of reaching out to Muslim Americans at their most vulnerable moment. They had the experience of being demonized in the worst way, and they did not want to see another community suffer through the torment that they did during WW2. Equally important, they had the awareness of their place in this society and they recognized that they had a moral duty to others going through a similar experience.

The tendency to see yourself as atomized and alone and to not look for similarities between your own and other groups is an outgrowth of thinking that somehow you are unique. As I mentioned earlier, whoever you are, if you have not yet been invited to the country club do not expect that it is going to happen at some magical point in the future. Change your frame of reference and see your position for what it is, then it will be easier to identify who your real and potential friends are. No matter what you do Bill O’Reilly is never going to speak nicely about you, but a lot of other people might if you recognize and acknowledge your commonalities with them.

As well, if you have a false picture of yourself you will make it easier for people to demonize you because you will not be aware of what they are saying you are. If you’re not an anti-Semite and you know it, but people are claiming you are one, you have to make yourself and your position abundantly clear. You may think it is absurd and doesn’t need saying, but if you don’t say it, and say it forcefully, others will put their words of their choosing into your mouth. If you do not put out a strong and unequivocal representation of yourself, people who have an agenda will paint you in a way which is more convenient for them. See your position for what it is, don’t delude yourself, and don’t ever let anyone paint your beliefs as something they are not.

Too many people from all backgrounds are engaging in self-destructive behaviours such as bigotry and self-delusion and it needs to stop, because doing so makes it easy for people who do not have our interests in mind to divide and conquer. Real strength is reflected in character, and it is also reflected in expressing unity and solidarity with others. Look at the example of people like Shirley Lee and defend others even if they are not of the same background as you, it is both an intelligent and moral decision. Break the colonial mindset that leads some to believe that they are just on the cusp of acceptance, that they are “better” than others. Identify with people who share your experience, maintain a strong moral character, and always look for opportunities to build bridges rather than burn them.


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6 Responses to Kicking Each Other Out of a Sinking Ship

  1. Richard says:

    What you said was said 150 years ago by Abraham Lincoln: Divided we fall. United we stand. Granted he was talking about the country as a whole and you are addressing its minority populations. The concept is classical and dates back to Confucius or earlier. Gandhi, Lennon and Mother Teresa all had this down. Its time to take the next step.

    Why does nobody listen?

  2. Pingback: Kicking Each Other Out of a Sinking Ship « Revolution by the Book « Yahyasheikho786's Blog

  3. Arun says:

    Why is this applicable only to minorities in the USA?

  4. Lou says:

    Why does nobody listen? But many do listen, to be sure. The ones that don’t listen have an inferiority complex. They need to be one peg up on the “other.” Where does this need to be one peg up come from? From the need to be rich – lest you should be nothing. After all is said and done, it’s about money. If you’re black and rich you’re respected. If you are white and poor you’re not. Your white skin is worthless when you have no money and your blackness is colourless when you have money. A poor Muslim or Arab is a “camel jockey,” but rich Christians love rich Muslims or Arabs. The poor, ignorant white, generally speaking needs to feel he is not at the very bottom and that makes him the worst racist. Money, (cliche but true) is the root of racism today. What to do? Keep fighting wrongs.

  5. Lou says:

    Hey Maz, what happened to my comment?

  6. Lutz Barz says:

    I as an emigrant/immigrant I revel in the extra whatever my ‘culture’ gives me. However I don’t insist on govt subsidies in my adopted country to feed the vision of the past. As such migrants who don’t adapt will find themselves in an ‘out’ group with tragic consequences of social isolation. Many migrants self-isolate. In itself that too is OK. What isn’t is being expected that being alien warants some sort of reward. This is the mememememe generation and when, as in the UK some of the frills are removed the flotsam hits the fan. Here in Australia we seem to cope differently because nobody gives a rat’s a*** even with high youth unemployment. But going bonkers just ain’t on the horizon. The British do puzzle me. And in case anybody wants to know: I’ve been on a disability pension for 7 years. So what to do? Learnt the play the piano, paint, writing my third sf novel. So why can’t the Brits use their spare time productively? Sad isn’t it?

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