The Truth

Once again Sheila Kennedy explores an issue that is puzzling and concerning to me.  Her blog post today is titled Lying with Impunity.  Her key point is “We have these embarrassingly unqualified candidates because we have large numbers of civically-illiterate citizens.”

This has been apparent time and again.  The debate around Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Governor’s illegal attempts to reject Syrian refugees, among many others, reveal that many Hoosiers have no understanding of the principles this country was founded on and how our government is supposed to work.

Lack of education is definitely part of the problem, and addressing that is crucial if we are to correct the problem, and be able to continue to try to operate as a democracy.  The importance of this is why Friends often chose to maintain their own schools.

But I think this climate of accepting lies from candidates points to a deeper and more sinister problem.   Many people who consider themselves white feel threatened and scared now.  Our economic system has failed the vast majority of us, and most of us are struggling with a dramatically declining standard of living.    These conditions usually result in the search for a scapegoat to blame for the things that have spun out of our control.

At the same time, the demographics of the country are rapidly changing, and soon people who consider themselves white will no longer be in the majority.

Unexpressed is how those who consider themselves white know they have been privileged in many ways, and are beginning to learn how many other ways they have had advantages they have taken for granted.  And knowing, and learning more about how the burden of those privileges have been borne by people of color and the poor.

Which leads to the fear of how people in positions of privilege now will be treated when they no longer are in control.  Which leads to desperate hopes that the slogans of politicians promising to fix these problems and protect them might be true (despite the actual facts).  And also leads to continued marginalization of anyone who isn’t considered white.

We can rise above this, but only with education and by finding ways to deal with these fears.   The only way I know to do that is to get people who usually don’t spend time together to change that, and get to know each other.  Anytime we spend time with other people, we discover our shared humanity.  I encourage you to seek out and create opportunities for people to connect to each other.

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3 Responses to The Truth

  1. Marv Kramer says:

    We need to “speak truth to power.” Milton Mayer, a Quaker, knew that best.  Learning to know each other better is essential,  but is very late in coming and is not enough at this point of time. Time would be better spent in reading Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free.

  2. lizopp says:

    Jeff, thanks for this post. I find I have a few different reactions/responses to your words–something I’m sure won’t surprise you. *wink*

    1. You write in part,”…many Hoosiers have no understanding of the principles this country was founded on…” Actually, I have come to believe that it is the most liberal or progressive of us that often don’t understand the *attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors* on which this country was founded. The superiority of whiteness–of western European norms and values–is deeply embedded in this country’s founding documents. I was completely ignorant of this until I heard Jacqueline Battalora speak about “The Birth of a White Nation.” You and your readers can watch her 40-minute keynote address from the White Privilege Conference* at this website: She has a book by the same name. From where I sit, and what I observe, nearly all white people who are in power–as CEOs, as presidential candidates, as chiefs of police, as school administrators, as general secretaries in our national organizations–they simply and unconsciously are acting out the principles and values into which they have been socialized… just as I used to do.

    2. “Lack of education is definitely part of the problem…” This is tricky because this country has a long way to go to address systemic classism. Social class isn’t determined solely by one’s income or accumulated wealth. It’s also determined by employment history, educational level, and even ability to own one’s home. And it’s not just those items as it relates to the individual standing (campaigning) in front of us: it’s more readily determined by that person’s parents and grandparents. Divisions based on social class differences and the values that come with each class are hard to see, name, and overcome. Plus there is internalized inferiority and internalized superiority based on class, just as there is internalized inferiority/superiority based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. As an example of internalized classism, I have people in my life who were discouraged by their own family from pursuing “higher education” because of the disdain they had for “high falutin’ folks.” (Resource: Reading Classes, by Barbara Jensen)

    3. “Many people who consider themselves white feel threatened and scared now…” I completely agree. Some sociologists are now labeling this dynamic as “white fragility” and even as “white male fragility,” given the number of white men in decision-making positions in government, media, business, education, etc. I am slowly making my way through Nelson Mandela’s memoir *Long Walk To Freedom.* Toward the end of his journey in prison, Mandela explains how he and the African National Congress had to address how to create a racially inclusive nation in South Africa, considering how much fear and concern there was among the white people in power and white people in the cities that if Blacks were to govern, they’d simply take murderous revenge out on white people. Mandela’s deeply held value that we are all family and kin seemed to have shaped him so completely that it affected how he viewed and interacted with his captives.

    4. Like you, my life has been changed by going to gatherings and community meetings where people of color not only show up in numbers but also are at the front of the room–emceeing, facilitating, speaking, clerking, etc. It has taken us–people who believe we are white–generations to internalize the messages that have led to negative and harmful impacts on Black and Brown bodies (ie systemic and structural racism). It will take us less time to “unbias” ourselves if we are willing to become conscious of our implicit bias, if we are willing to “get woke” and pay attention.

    Thanks for your writing, Jeff.

    Blessings, Liz at The Good Raised Up,

    *The WPC is about addressing and dismantling white supremacy and leveraging white privilege for social change and racial justice)

    • jakisling says:

      Thanks for these excellent remarks.
      I agree with your comments about attitudes and beliefs. I was referring to the lack of basic (educational) facts about the history of the United States as a refuge for those experiencing religious persecution, what separation of church and state means, etc.

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