A simple classroom adage that holds so much relevance in the world we now find ourselves in. Like many of my fellow citizens, my overextended sense that our great American society would just exist indefinitely, was obliterated on 8 November 2016. We find ourselves bewildered by the deplorable, hateful, racist others that exist in this country. We find it unfathomable that one belligerent, repugnant, spoiled man-child, and the cronies he rode in on, can seemingly break every societal rule with such wanton disregard for the core principles that founded our country.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow. We must accept that our false sense of comfort, and easily distracted nature, have allowed such a cohort of people to exist and take hold of our once great nation. But the ugly truth is, we have let this happen. We did not invest and take part in our democratic processes as we should have. We assumed too much, in thinking justice and righteousness would always prevail. We ignored the fact that we were never fully educated on certain historic truths of how we achieved our status as the leader of the free world. In essence, we’ve been kept just ok enough, shielded from major hardships and allowed ourselves to be pleasantly preoccupied with the spoils of a materialistic economy. We’ve piddled away time relishing in our over inflated sense of self-importance as reflected back to us through social media. We didn’t think we had to be involved in developing our people or in molding the direction of our civilization.
We were wrong.
So how did this happen? Where do we go from here?
First, we need to stop believing words at face value. We’ve forgotten some very basic homespun wisdom. Talk is cheap and words are easy. Action speaks louder than words.
We’re in an age where we’ve seen it all. Religious figures that pretend to be holy, selling poor saps on what they want to hear, just so they can line their pockets with the hard earned pennies of their guileless, blind sheep. But honestly, I blame the sheep to a large extent. In this world, you have to be able to look beyond a person’s words, and assess the character of the person uttering the phrases. A true, holy leader should be virtuous and humble. The phony, shameless greed and valuation of materialism should be enough to show the desperate followers that their leader is unfit for the title. But lately, some Americans seem to be blind from seeing a person’s actual character. They lack the analytical ability, especially when that person seems to say everything they so desperately want to hear. They like the words, and accept them at face value, because the words make them feel good.
In my last year as an elementary school teacher, I had two boys in third grade, who for months were stealing candy from a corner store on their way to school every morning, until they were finally caught. These two boys were the picture of adorable – they were two of my least problematic boys that year. They were charming, funny and handsome. They had loving parents and families, who were distraught when they learned what mischievous act their children took part in. Let’s be real, most kids at some point steal something. Stealing candy at age 8, is about as innocent as it gets. I’ve done much worse, and at a much older age. My friends at 13, had actually committed felony level theft. But I had to get real with my boys. The benefit of being a child is supposed to be that you have an allotment of time to make some mistakes, and time to learn from them. Life is supposed to be forgiving in childhood. I had to drill in to them that eventually people become what they do. For example, if you let your insecurities take ahold, and all you can do is to talk badly about everyone else, because deep down you don’t feel good about yourself…well, then you are a hater. That’s the definition. I calmly asked those two boys, who stole a candy bar every morning on their way to school…what is a thief? They said “a thief is somebody who steals.” “Well, you stole candy, so that makes you a thief, right?” They looked to the floor with tears in their eyes. “I’m not a thief…I don’t want to be a thief.” I told them I am so glad that you don’t want to be a thieves, but saying that you don’t want to be a thief isn’t enough. I told them that so many kind-hearted, loving boys like themselves make simple mistakes…and continue to make bad decisions, but at some point, those bad choices lead to labels, like thief, and labels stick. I had to tell them, that if they don’t like the label of thief, then they have to stop doing the things that thieves do. People become the actions that they most commonly do.
I wrote my first blog post in reaction to all of the buried, racist hatred that began spewing in this country just after the orange man-child was elected. I was heartbroken thinking about the world that my students will have to face, the world I faced – even though I know that the hate and discrimination of my life won’t even compare to what they’ll endure…and that thought broke me. I recalled a year when I was 8, at the mercy of a hateful, racist bigot as my 3rd grade teacher. I went on to recount that that same year, on my first family vacation at Disney World, I was singled out and spit on by a racist redneck boy. I remember his flaming red hair and his family’s unforgettable southern drawl – my pacifist father went right back and confronted the boy’s family. “Hey” he yelled, “your kid just spit on my daughter.” The first thing his grandmother instinctually said was, “awww, no way! Maayyy boy wouldn’t do that…he’s not a racist! We don’t raise ’em like that!” (bullshit) was what I thought, and what I wish my 8 year old self said. She would not, could not see that “her boy” was just that…a homegrown, hateful racist bully.
The racist epithets, and hate-fueled violence that’s become commonplace since the 45th smarmy GOP puppet has taken office is incomprehensible. The ironic commonality that all of the horrendous racists captured on video have in common, is that they all become overtly offended (ahem, the original definition of a snowflake) when they are called out on what they actually are…racist. They cannot comprehend or connect the fact that their actions show that they are just that. People are aware of loaded words in the English language – liar, racist, bully. Even those who most embody those descriptors, do not want to wear those labels because they are negative terms that we don’t want to be associated with. One’s sense-of-self is such a delicate thing (right snowflakes?). But launching in to a fury of racial slurs, approaching people in stores and on beaches and grabbing your crotch, and yelling obscenities at another human being because they are not the same race as you, means…you are racist. There is such a disparity in how, much of our populace perceives themselves, verses what and who they actually are.
In this post, I won’t divvy out the blame (ahem again, Grandma who irrefutably defends her racist grandson by claiming he’s not racist moments after he spits on a child of a different race = the problem)…and I won’t promise a simple, fast solution because there aren’t any. I can suggest this – the slow road to reconstructing human decency starts in our homes, and in the classroom. As parents and educators, we have to call our children out on negative behaviors. We do the gravest disservice by not making children aware of their unpleasant truths, but then we must also be there to support them and help them change to become the type of person they want to be – kind, a good friend, helpful, honorable. We have to make our children connect and internalize that their actions show who they are. I can say I am nice, because I want to be nice. But if all of my actions show just the opposite, then I am not a nice person. Words alone don’t mean anything. If a child picks on, torments and belittles others…make that child understand that that is bullying….he or she is being a bully. When they don’t like that label, which they won’t, because that label isn’t pleasant, make the child understand that the only way to make that label not stick, is to not do what bullies do. If you don’t want to be a thief, stop stealing. And if you don’t want to be a racist, stop spewing hate towards others based on racial differences. It’s that simple. It’s elementary really, which is where these lessons are supposed to be taught and mastered – in elementary school.
And if you realize that you can’t stop or you don’t want to stop doing the things that racists, or bullies, or liars, or thieves do…whatever your affliction is, that’s fine too. Just demonstrate a basic level of self-awareness and own your label. If the sight of a chink, a spic, a terrorist sand-nigger, or a nigger in your country throws your whole sense-of-self to the point where you’re overcome with a physical fury that can only be satisfied by you hurling your verbal retch on to others – if that’s really how weak you actually are, that the mere sight of an “other” can have such a profound effect on your state-of-being, then own your bullshit and just acknowledge that you are racist. In other words, call a duck a fucking duck. If you don’t like your label, then maybe it’s time to change.