Attacking Ignorance

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Mike and I discuss current events constantly. He always puts an interesting spin on most topics because he has been a voracious student of history for most of his life. As a boy he read the encyclopedia for fun. His tastes evolved to a study of the social sciences and finally to a concentration on the stories of our past. We have both been distraught over the events of the past week in Charleston, South Carolina. Even as an educator who has seen some very sad cases of young people who have gone off of the rails it is still incomprehensible to me as to how someone becomes so filled with hate that he becomes capable of murdering innocent people based solely on race. I asked Mike what he thought was the root cause of such horrific behavior and his response was interesting, measured, and in keeping with his background in Sociology, his major in college and graduate school.

Ignorance is our public enemy. The shooter in Charleston was an angry man who had failed at life. He needed to find a way of feeling better about himself. He fell under the spell of an evil ideology that is as old as mankind. Namely, there have always been those who have attempted to elevate themselves by demeaning others. Adolf Hitler and his murderous followers were really very small men who had little to offer society. They inflated their own egos by insisting that Jews, invalids, gypsies, and others were inferior and therefore needed to die. People like the Nazis and the South Carolina terrorist do not question the thinking of those who propose racist philosophies. Instead they embrace all of the backward thinking because somehow it makes them feel like big shots.

I spoke yesterday of a horrible man who insinuated himself into my mother’s life long ago. He was the black sheep of his family. His brothers were well educated and successful. One of them was a renowned professor at Rice University. He on the other hand worked at a dreary job and barely managed to pay his living expenses. He drove an old beat up car and lived in a dilapidated home. He felt like a big man when he abused my mother with his taunts and his insults. Unfortunately she was a single parent whose stress level was already quite high before she had even met him. In addition, her tendency toward mental illness was lurking underneath her generous exterior. She was a good person who somehow thought at first that she might have a positive influence on this man. In the end she was not emotionally strong enough for the constant battering that he inflicted on her soul. He brought her down like a house of cards. I suppose that it somehow made him feel powerful to be a rabid racist but the reality is that he was nothing more than a bitter man who must have known deep down inside that he was little more than a cipher. 

It’s difficult to know how monsters are created. They somehow find their own kind just as the birds of a feather flock together. It is not always within the family that they learn their hate. Sometimes they search until they find acceptance and all too often that comes with a terrible price for them and the people around them. Gang members are of the same bent as are those who would join a horrific group like ISIS. There is little difference in the personalities of those who would hurt others to make themselves feel accomplished. Regardless of what philosophies they follow their common denominator is always a huge inferiority complex and a desire to believe anything that makes them seem better than they really are.

In our country there is a long history of those who have bullied those whom they deem to be somehow less than. My mother had rocks thrown at her for being a dark haired, dark eyed, dark skinned child of immigrants from Eastern Europe. My father-in-law was mistreated for having a Spanish name. Jews have been called Christ killers. Asians are ridiculed. Mysogynistic brutes abuse women. The mentally ill are often misunderstood and shunned. Gays are treated with indignity. More so than any other minority group African Americans have all too often endured prejudice and outright hate. 

I do not believe that this is a universal problem nor do I think that whites are more prone than others to display such traits. Most of the people that I have encountered in almost seventy decades are compassionate and caring people who would be appalled if they believed that they were hurting anyone either consciously or unconsciously. Unfortunately we don’t always call out those who are prejudiced because their behavior embarrasses us. We have been taught to be polite and in the process we sometimes allow horrid people to spread their venom. As an example I would note that the shooter’s friends and roommate all spoke of times when he hurled racist epithets and even threats of doing something big to begin a race war and yet none of them stepped forward to let authorities know that their associate was spiraling out of control.

My mother’s coworkers and neighbors were wonderful people. Whenever she began to show symptoms of her illness they would call me to be certain that I was aware of problems. I so appreciated knowing that they were willing to take the time to alert me. It was a secret that we all kept from Mama. She sometimes believed that the folks around her were out to get her. Little did she know how much they cared and how willing they were to take steps to insure that she would get the help that she needed. 

It’s up to all of us to be watchful for people who are displaying signs of violence either in thoughts or actions. If we can’t reach them because their minds are too hate filled then we need to talk with someone who has the authority to keep an eye on their movements and activities. Sometimes we may even need to disrupt their freedoms if need be. 

The hate crime that occurred in Charleston might have been prevented if enough people had connected the dots. The workers at the mall from which he was banned seemed to understand that his behavior was strange and erratic and even a bit terrifying. Once he had been charged with possession of illegal drugs and then trespassing at that mall a bulletin should have been sent to every gun dealer in the country denying him the right to purchase anything until he had gone to trial for his offenses. His family and friends should have been on guard and reported all of his actions. It didn’t take long for reporters to find his ravings on social media. There should be law officers who check for such things before someone like him is let out of jail with bail. 

I realize that I am speaking of encroaching on civil rights just a bit but once someone has committed a crime they should be monitored more closely. Bail should be predicated on honest testimony from people who know the person. All rights to purchase weapons of any kind should be put on hold until they have been tried. 

I am no fool. I understand that when someone as evil as the young man who wanted to start a race war becomes determined to fulfill a murderous plot there are many many ways to do so without drawing the suspicion of others Still, I think that we need to be aware of the haters among us. There should be red flags that fly whenever they spew their venom online. The need to be watched very carefully. 

As for the rest of us we must not listen to hateful speech without correcting it. We can guide people to find the truth. I don’t think that the answer is to yell at those who have insidious ideas nor to stoop to their low level. Instead we can patiently attempt to explain the truth. We should model inclusiveness and love just as the good citizens of Charleston have been doing over the past many days. Their gospel message of love is inspiring to everyone who witnesses it. 

Perhaps St. Francis said it best in words that never fail:

Lord make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

If we follow these simple commands we can begin to eradicate some of the horrendous ignorance that creates murder and mayhem unless of course the individuals are just too far gone. Then we must remove those monsters from our midst without guilt. Never should we simply ignore or encourage them. They usually try to warn us of their plans just as Adolf Hitler did and just as the most recent hater did. We need to listen and then do something. As a society our message needs to be that they will not be tolerated.

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