Discussions About Answers to Hard Questions Like Race and Politics

     It’s 2:27 a.m. here in Delaware. I’ve been visiting my mom’s 90-year-old cousin, Hal. We talk a lot, so I’m going to publish a post unlike what I usually publish – philosophy and opinions.  Fair warning.
     Hal is an ordinary brilliant chemical engineer who is trying to build relationships with people since his wife died. He has made some amazing friends among international students, mostly Chinese, who are here going to the University of Delaware for post-graduate degrees. I joined him tonight in an hour of one-on-one conversation with one student, a Chinese math professor aged 45. Being with these students makes both of us feel hopeful and positive. They are fun, engaging and excited to learn and talk about many topics with us as they practice their English skills.
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     I needed a good shot of enthusiastic hope for the future, not hatred and lying that I see in politics and between people in general. Hal and I  had lunch with one of my pretend daughters today in MD. We discussed the dangerous situation in black communities near her. She said that a town close to her, comprised mostly  of African-Americans, was burned by militants. An off-duty firemen friend visiting another friend in that city was shot because he was a firemen. Fear prevails. Accomplishment for the solving the racism problem – 0! I feel like I should have had some words of wisdom at my age for her.
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     Hal and I discussed how we thought an abused race of people might fight destructive racism. We both agree that both now and historically the black race has been severely mistreated, particularly by the whites.  But what can they do to make it stop?  For the race as a whole, neither trying to be good, even better than good, nor violence seems to have helped them get very far in the war against racism.  Violence against themselves, their own businesses, makes no sense to me at all as a fight against racial discrimination. Does it to you? And if so, why?
     Neither of us can imagine doing other than what we now do as white people, trust in God, and try to maximize our personal opportunities by working hard and doing the best jobs we can do to provide for ourselves and help others.  We both hoped that our lives would make a dent in the problem. But will that work? Has it worked to solve discrimination?
     In politics especially, it seems that people are getting less and less willing to compromise and work together. Teresa suggested that it might be nice to just wipe the slate clean and start over with all new politicians. It’s a great thought, but wow, that sounds immense. Hal suggested that a benevolent dictator might solve the problem. Ouch!  Who in this world is going to please and do the best for everyone?
     When I look around me at all the problems in the world, and how people are trying to solve them, the fewer answers I have. I feel discouraged and things feel overwhelming to me. I don’t like that feeling of losing optimism. It is not me.
     So there’s my rant for the night. so I probably should sign off and go to bed.  Hope you feel more enlightened about what actions we should take than I do!!!!  🙂 Tell me what you think.

Author: Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, and I'm working on retirement. heheh Read more about me here. http://wp.me/P7tP3I-2

23 thoughts on “Discussions About Answers to Hard Questions Like Race and Politics”

    1. I know. Hal gets me going sometimes, but I love the exposure to other cultures, and a chance to share deep thoughts. He was like a brother to my mom, and he’s kind of like that to me, too. The years between our ages are hardly noticeable. 🙂

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  1. Education is the answer– integrated schools and communities. Discrimination comes from fear. And don’t forget– we’re a gun-loving society– if guns weren’t so easy to come by, there’d be fewer deaths from them. Living each day trying to do better sounds like a great motto to me! Enjoy your travels.

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    1. Thank you, my friend. I agree with you about the guns, too. I wouldn’t have one if my husband didn’t insist on it when we moved out to snake country here in CA. I’ve never shot one, and hope I never do.

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  2. I don’t have answers. But I do have opinions that should wait for another time. But I will say this, acts of goodness are far more prevalent than the evil ones. In the midst of the Paris shooting, acts of kindness were everywhere. People laid across their frieends on the floor of the Music hall to save the lives of others. People tweeted that their homes were open for those needing refuge. Fire fighters and policemen put themselves in harms to help the wounded and to stop the carnage.

    In the Uk we have the Royal National Lifeboat institute a charity of volunteer seamen, who at a moments notice 24/7 will jump into coastal rescue boat and launch out into the raging seas to sae marineers in peril. They are not paid, they sometimes loose their lives doing it. It barely gets a mention on the news. In their 100 year history they have saved over 140,000 people from drowning at sea. This is the norm – not Paris. Goodness will always win out.

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  3. I agree education is key. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean just throwing more money at schools. Something no politician ever wants to bring up is that parents are essential to the education of their children. Good teachers are critical, but if children aren’t taught to value education, the best teachers in the world are going to have an uphill struggle. I realize that for many in poorer communities, there are obstacles such as having to work two jobs, which leaves less time for kids. But that doesn’t mean a parent can’t expect and demand that their children show respect to adults and especially teachers. Of course, schools should be decently funded, children should have an adequate learning environment and teachers must be competent, but children must be willing to learn, as well.

    Walls begin to crumble and hostility to others who are different begins to wither when people learn what others are like, rather than what they imagine they are like.

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    1. It helps to be friendly. I rarely meet anyone who is not eventually friendly back. However, in mobs or public gatherings no one is reacting to individuals. When uniforms get involved, the brain goes totally inactive, I think. Flying under the radar lasts just so long until the ruling power takes more and more advantage of the other. Eventually , it seems, conflict must erupt. I hope we are not headed for that.

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      1. Yes, being friendly does help, but once the mob mentality sets in, it’s often too late.

        We seem increasingly headed in a direction where a growing percentage of individuals believe that anyone with divergent views has thereby lost the right to voice those views, and they’re willing to use or abide the use of any means necessary to shut them up. That, to me, is an authoritarian mindset and dangerous. It’s also a sign of an individual who doesn’t have enough confidence in their own views to allow others to dissent.

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    1. I think a a politician has to be somewhat of a narcissist. They think more highly of themselves than they probably are. They honestly think they can make a difference because they are special, and some of them are! Fortunately some people do want the job, and even better some are good at it.

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  4. A very interesting dinner table conversation, Marsha. I always try to steer clear of discussing politics, as the little that I actually understand is dangerous. I do think that if we could encourage people to start being proud of themselves and their culture, instead of feeling like victims, things might change for the better. Unfortunately, I think that racism will never be eliminated, but if each of us tries to educate the bigoted people we come into contact with, that should help a lot.

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  5. I received this email in response to an email which predicated this post from Jim Hill, the Governmental Relations Committee Chair Emeritus of California Council for the Social Studies. I asked him if he would mind if I posted it. He gave his permission.

    I fully understand, and some days have similar feelings.

    I do think that a lot of the anger and resulting violence comes from various understandings of identity, of oneself and of others. And much of this, if not most, comes from how history is understood. As Faulkner said, the past isn’t over; it’s not even the past.

    Peg and I were really shocked a few years ago when we visited Atlanta and then drove to Montgomery, Alabama. We also thought things were better in terms of race relations. Not when we went to the Atlanta History Museum, which explained slavery only as a ‘labor system’. Nothing about treatment, about the ‘middle passage’, about the breakup of families by slave sales, etc.

    We got to Montgomery amid countless freeway signs announcing ‘the White House of the Confederacy’ and nothing about the home and church of Dr ML King, Jr.; nothing about the Rosa Parks Museum. We finally found these, which were unmarked and had no parking. At the King’s downtown church, which was locked, one had to knock, a slit opened, we were examined, and then allowed to enter. A few blocks down, the Southern Poverty Law Center was like a fort, with armed guards and security, x-rays, etc. more than an airport.
    We then drove to Selma. That town looks like the pictures of 1965. A small town maintained museum mentioned nothing of civil rights. Outside of town, a very small private African American museum had pictures of the Selma march.

    The Tuskegee Airmen now have a small museum, started only in 2005 by the federal, not state, government. They are trying to get it off the ground, so to speak. Ditto a small museum to the Selma marchers.

    So wow.

    When Peg was helping from SB County to run the week long summer Underground Railroad field trip program she did for ten years, she learned that for African Americans, learning they their ancestors took action against enslavement was vital to self identity, which has been and is continually battered by long held beliefs among whites that Africans are racially inferior. I did not know that. She, and to a lesser extent me, were allowed to view the Af Am community from the inside. A whole separate middle class developed after the civil war, with its roots in those who were skilled, usually literate, usually urban, sometimes free, before that war. Learning that the best way to avoid violence was to keep a very low profile, the black middle class did not show itself to the white world. There are a series of pictures displayed in the Smithsonian about what this community looked like in the 1920’s, 30’s 40’s in Wash DC. We saw some of those separate communities during those Underground Railroad trips.

    These folks have a very different sense of the past, and of self identity, than do most whites in the US., trust me. And some get very angry.

    When Peg and I were in South Africa recently, we went out to one of the prominent early humankind sites. There was a wonderful museum, and also a series of caves where complete austropithicus skeletons have been discovered. We went on a park led tour of the caves. The guide was Black African, two other people were also. They watched us carefully, to see how we would act. It was up to us to open conversation, and to demonstrate openness and friendliness. As we talked and joked, they became more open. And the payoff was when I got a bit stuck, they came back to help me. I really think it is up to the ones who have the tradition of being the ‘oppressor’ in their background to start the conversation. As a white person, I have to do that.

    Much the same thing took place when we were in India, and ditto when we were in Egypt. We had to go forward.

    Upon further reflection, I think that Americans tend too much to think of wars in sports terms: one wins, one loses. Winning means the other guy not only quits fighting, but since he really thinks the same way you do, he becomes like you openly, especially if as winner you simply remove his leaders. (think of how Americans think of Germany and Japan after WW2). However…the other guy does not change his thinking. What he does is get bitter, and figures out ways to circumvent the ‘winner’. See Reconstruction in the US after the Civil War, and the rise of the KKK and ultimately Jim Crow laws. If anything, the Southerners convinced most Northerners that blacks were inferior and as such, could not be treated as full citizens. In that sense, the South ‘won’ the war.

    We could talk about the middle east, about India, about how the Hindu community in Calif wants to change schoolbooks, etc. In each case, a different understanding of the past is what the debate is about.

    OK, so…we keep working at it, I think, not being defeated (very often) by a Sisiphus feeling as the rock we have pushed up the mountain from time to time comes rolling back down. Do we help make things better? Yes. Do we achieve everything we want? No. If we expect small victories, we can be happy. If we expect to change the world, we will be unhappy.

    Jim

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