Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Decoding Hate

Hate groups in our country continue to thrive. They may market themselves as religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives or even protectors of Western civilization or white culture, but what they do is promote hate, insularity, and divisiveness. Jared Taylor, a fundraiser for YWC (Youth for Western Civilization), was quoted as saying, “When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization – any civilization – disappears.” 
Kevin DeAnna, YWC leader, wrote in a letter that “radical multiculturalism” and the “far left…destroy our people and our culture.”
He was also quoted as saying, “Even if you prove to me…that [curtailing illegal immigration] would hurt the economy, I would still be opposed to immigration because it’s about our dispossession as a people.” (The Intelligence Report, Fall 2011, Issue 143)
I think America was preserved and pristine at the hands of its first natives who helped the white man so he would not die in the harsh conditions during the early years of settlement, even as the settlers engaged in genocide. I think America was built on the backs of slaves, most of whom were African or descendants of Africans, and the Chinese and the Irish. It was built on the backs of immigrant women and children who lived in tenement housing and worked in factories where they were locked in and forced to work in inhuman conditions. It was built on migrant workers, mainly black and Hispanic, who still work the fields today and live in poverty and squalor. Liberals helped the progress of our country by supporting social programs, such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, and Headstart programs. These programs equalize and diminish the difference between haves and have-nots. They also allow our country to tap into the vast potential of those who may not have the access and resources to reach their full potential by giving them avenues to do so. Helping those who need help, who need not just bootstraps with which to pull themselves up, but the boots that are connected to the bootstraps, without regard to race, gender or ethnicity, helps all of us in ways that most of us take for granted.
Fear of change and loss of power are what drive most of the hate groups today and have always been the driving force behind them. These groups use words that have coded meanings and instigate, support and perpetuate violence. Either their members feel dispossessed because they assume they are entitled to a piece of the American pie, or they already wield power and wealth and fear losing it.  I don’t care if they want to hate, and I don’t hate them in return. They have the freedom to feel and think as they do, but they don’t have the right to impose their rhetoric, beliefs and actions on others.
They could not exist if racism did not still exist, if all the isms did not still exist. Yet here I am imposing my own beliefs on you, dear reader. But I am only trying to say that we are all equal, more alike than different in our needs and aspirations, but diverse in our approaches and perspectives. Our different ingredients make up the American pie and there are enough slices for all of us.
I’m not always so serious. I’m actually quite funny. Read another excerpt from my memoir, Shades of Tolerance, below, and maybe it will make you smile.

(Excerpt from Chapter 7 The Ubiquitous They, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story)
Dad picked me up at the Schenectady bus station, a tiny room surrounded by windows. He drove down Central Avenue toward Colonie, and neither of us spoke. I watched the buildings and cars and people out the side window, afraid to ask how Ma was doing.
I do not remember much about my stay those few days except that Ma was released from the hospital and she told me to go back to school and finish the semester. I was angry and embarrassed I had called all my professors, my voice shaking with grief, telling them I had to go home because my mother was near death. Now I would be back for final exams after all. I worried about taking exams after such a disruption. I worried the faculty would think I had lied or exaggerated. I considered whether or not Ma had exaggerated her illness or got sick on purpose, so I would come home. I wondered if her illness was my fault, just as she had accused me of causing Dad’s second heart attack the summer before.
I spent the bus ride back to Syracuse with my forehead pressed against the window, deep in thought, watching each mile marker streak by the window. Just as I had stopped drinking a few years before, I decided now to stop going back to the source of my feeling abandoned and anxious.
Ronald met me at the bus station in Syracuse and walked with me back to the dorm, carrying my bag. When we got to my room, I told him what I thought about the whole ride back in the bus. “I’m not going back to Albany this summer,” I said.
“Where are you going to stay? Where will you work?” he asked.
“I’ll figure it out,” I said.
“Don’t do anything rash,” he said, “It’s only a few months.”
“I can’t stay in that house again.”
Copy Services at Bird Library had a new supervisor. Maxine had moved to Technical Services and Mary had taken her job. Mary was almost six feet tall, a linebacker with long, fine blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Her voice sounded like a whisper. She had a twin sister nicknamed Bug who looked exactly like her, unless you studied the shapes of their faces, and you realized that Bug’s face was softer at the edges and smaller than Mary’s. Mary and Bug made all their own dresses: the same empire dress pattern with long sleeves, but in different solids and prints. The personalized license plate of their shared station wagon announced their avocation: QUILTERS.
“Oh, your poor mother,” I had said to Mary upon realizing that the person I was waving to on campus was Bug and not Mary, and that was why she ignored me.
‘Why do you feel sorry for my mother?” Mary had asked.
“To have twins for her firstborn. It must have been very difficult for her as a new mother,” I said.
One day she would laugh at me, looking at my belly circumference that nearly matched my height, when I, too, would have twins for my firstborn. A few weeks before I went on maternity leave, Mary would throw her arm around my waist, heft me up like a sack of grain, and walk across a runnel of rainwater rushing towards the street drain.  All in good humor, she and Bug made quilts and stuffed teddy bears for my set of twins.
I told Mary my plight when I went to pick up my paycheck.
“I have one more summer position open,” she said, “You and Ron can work all summer, full-time hours.”
“Great!”  I said. I called Peggy that evening and begged to use her spare room in the house she and Dawson had just bought with another couple. It was an old two-family, built in the 1920s, down in the ghetto on the south side of Syracuse.  Peggy, Dawson and baby Liza lived in the first-floor flat and the other couple and their baby of the same age lived in the second-floor flat. Peggy said she would be happy to have me stay.
Even though I had rushed home to see Ma in the hospital, I had kept conversation short and directed at her health. I did not want to call her to tell her I would not be home for the summer, so I sent her a letter. Syracuse became my hometown for the next thirty years. Ma would fight to keep Andy home, and he obliged, if only because he had no other plan. She had called Andy and me “the two little ones.” She never wanted us to leave, and now she was angry that she could not make me stay, could not make me choose her over Ronald. Syracuse, already home to Peggy and Rocco, had stolen another child.
Mary and Bug lived in the Valley section of Syracuse not even a mile from Peggy’s house, and they beeped their horn each morning to let me know they had arrived to pick me up. Ronald walked to work from his Euclid Avenue home. He and I worked together, leaving at noon to wander down to Marshall Street and the Burger King at lunchtime.  After lunch we would stand side by side, working to get the copy requests completed.
The Copy Center was walled by glass that looked out on Periodicals. Often as we stood at the copy machines, we watched one of the Library administrators walking by, his head turned in our direction. One day he slipped in the front door and told Mary he wanted to talk to her.
Mr. Bullard came up to Mary’s chest. He was middle-aged and balding, his suit a grayish green. Rumor was his hero was Winston Churchill. He had read every one of his books and all biographies about him. He must have fancied himself Churchill-like, his finger resting in the watch pocket of his vest. He also imagined himself as a wise and desirable mentor to young female employees in his charge. I thought he was creepy.
“I’ve had complaints,” he said to Mary.
“Complaints?” Mary echoed. She dwarfed him and her usually soft features looked menacing.
“Those two can’t work together,” he said, nudging his chin toward Ronald and me, standing behind copy machines side by side.
“Who can’t work together?” Mary asked, her voice losing its whispery quality. Ronald and I looked at each other then back to the scene playing in front of us. We kept the copy machines humming, turning pages of the books we were copying from, flipping the books over and flattening their spines so the copies would not be black on the bound edge of the pages. We did this without looking down, our eyes fixed on Mary and Bullard.
“One of them has to work in Technical Services,” he said, pointing at us.
“They are my students,” Mary said, leaning toward Bullard. He looked down at the counter separating them.
“It’s voluntary. Otherwise, someone will have to be fired,” Bullard said, “I told you people have complained.”
Mary picked up a ruler from her desk. She used it to slap her palm to emphasize each word. “Who complained?” she said again, slapping the ruler twice.
“People,” Bullard said, “I can’t say who.”
“The ubiquitous they,” she said, slapping her palm again on each word, her voice seeming to bounce off the walls and glass.
Bullard took a step backward. I looked out the glass into the Periodicals Department and noticed all eyes, students and staff, were turned to Copy Services. Everyone had heard Mary’s whispery voice turn dangerous.
“And what did they say their complaint was?” she said, continuing to slap her palm with the ruler. Now it was a constant slap, slap, slap.
Bullard stared at the ruler. I think Mary was imitating some nuns she knew, or at least one or two that I had run into during Sunday school classes, and I was even surer that Bullard had attended Catholic school based entirely on his expression and body posture.
“I can’t say,” he said, his voice faltering. Then he straightened his spine and looked up at her.
“I’ve spoken,” he said. “I want an answer within the hour. Someone is working out back.” He turned and reached for the door.
“Oh, you’ll get an answer,” Mary said.
“No,” I said, staring at Bullard, my copy machine now silent. “I’ve got an answer now. I quit!”
“You can’t quit,” Bullard said, turning to look at me.
“No, she can’t quit,” Ronald said, “ because I quit.”
“I still quit,” I said.
Bullard stood rooted in his spot, his hand still reaching for the door handle, staring at us.
“I quit, too!” said Steve. Steve was the night manager at Copy Services. He had only started his shift an hour earlier. Wispy and bespectacled, he sat behind the microfilm reader/printer and it seemed we had all forgotten he was there.
“Are the ubiquitous they being hired on as my new staff?” Mary asked, the ruler slapping at a fast and furious pace now.
Bullard dropped his hand to his side and turned to face Mary.
“Okay, drop it for now, but don’t think this is over,” he said. He quickly turned, opened the door and slammed it behind him.
We all watched Bullard through the glass as he marched across the carpeted floor in Periodicals and up the center stairway. When we could no longer see his feet, students and staff in Periodicals started applauding and we burst out laughing.


  1. I always liked the story about the copy center, Ma.

    What you say up top about Liberals supporting programs...I have mixed feelings about the programs. lemme explain. I agree that these programs are needed, and needed especially now, with the economy's bad health and such. But part of me can't help feeling like these same programs in some ways perpetuate discrimination. it's the words we use associated with these programs... "At Risk," "Minority," "Troubled," etc. that label the people they help as 'other' than the good American people who don't need such programs because they did everything right. Most people have a set ides of who is "At Risk," or further, "At Risk" to become a menace in society once they're grown. A "Minority" child with one parent who probably doesn't work, for example.

    Yes, I have it in my head that we need to change our language to get people thinking differently. Anyone could be "at risk," or "troubled," or a "minority," even, depending on the circumstance. We use these words and so many other words to put people down.

    I want to say more, but I gotta go!


  2. Thanks for reading and posting! I know how busy you are!

    You are so right. Sometimes the very programs meant to help people, create dependence, because there is no good way to transition off them. Or the programs create a stigma, because people judge people who need them. Social programs aren’t perfect. The largest number of people using these programs is from the majority population, not the minority, so we need to educate people. And, yes, we need to change the language we use to describe the programs and their participants. For example, many senior citizens are against social programs, yet worry Social Security and Medicare will be taken from them.

    We all need help at one time or another so we should be helping each other all along. Life is hard enough, but even harder when you are expected to go it alone. We can all serve as one another’s safety net, not selectively but for everyone.

    I was doing a little research when I wrote this post, and FDR made sure he had mostly fiscal conservatives on board when he developed the New Deal programs. We need conservatives, liberals, socialists, centrists, independent thinkers and even anti-government supporters to exchange ideas and make real progress. There really is room for everyone if we show respect and tolerance for one another, and that’s the true definition of a liberal.