So here we are again, not that we ever thought that lessons had been learned. Here we are with utterances that are making life more horrible for people. Here we are, playing the same old card because maybe the lads said that this card worked wonders the first time it was played, the lads who said 'sure isn’t it just what everyone is saying', the words ringing in your ears, that it’s OK to say these things, to make these suggestions.
I think of Nanci Griffith, singing It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go....
A cafeteria line in Chicago
The fat man in front of me
Is calling black people trash to his children
He’s the only trash here I see
And I’m thinking this man wears a white hood
In the night when his children should sleep
But, they slip to their window and they see him
And they think that white hood’s all they need...
And when people hear those words and say “I don’t know where you’re going here with this exactly...” they know all too bloody well where you are going there with those comments and these questions. They know what motivates. They know what feeds ignorance and gets the lads going, the lads who pat ya on the back and say 'fair fecks to ya man for saying what everyone is saying...you tell them, you tell them and we won’t forget ya for saying it...'
When people give you a box to stand on, it gives you a few extra inches to be seen above the crowd, to be heard above the crowd. But with that box comes great responsibility. The box allows you to see above the crowd, to be able to reach the people down the back, for them to see you. And they see you up there on the box, they expect more from you, because after all you are an Up On The Box person. With farsight, they expect you to have foresight, to have empathy, to know what will inspire and what will deflate. What will create love, respect, dignity, and community......and what will divide and cause hate. And to know when you should, if ever, deploy any of these virtues.
And when the person standing on the box says these things, then the mammies and daddies will think about these ideas amd notions and before you know it, the kids in the schoolyard have a new arsenal of vocabulary with which to maim and hurt and injure. Racism is a grown up disease, but we have to stop using our children to carry it.
By bringing discourse down to this level, by making the snide suggestion, the subliminal slur, what we are doing is robbing our children of their innocence. By letting them know that to make these comments is OK; to judge the behaviour of others by the colour of their skin or the creed of the God they pray to is OK. That it is OK for one side to identify the Other. And to terrorise that Other through isolation and suggestion and hearsay. To not care about the collateral damage.
But the lads will still say, sure isn’t it what everyone is saying. We live in a world where a barefaced lie can be presented as the truth; where the truth can be presented as a bare-faced lie. Where it is easy to sway the crowd with a suggestion this way or that. And because of this, it is a time when we expect people to be more careful with their discourse, to be not used as playthings in an agenda that has no place in our culture.
And so back to the box that the person is standing on. It is our box. We built it, and we decided who should stand on it. And the box will be there long after the person steps down off it. But, alas, so will the hatred and the division.
It’s a hard life
It’s a hard life
It’s a very hard life
It’s a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all that they’ll know
And there ain’t no place in the world for these kids to go.