Reading time – 87 seconds . . .
“They’re just protesting and rioting so that they can loot the stores and vandalize other people’s property.” That’s what the woman said to the radio talk show host about the people in the streets of Ferguson, MO. My reply is a double, “Huh?”
If I understand her correctly, she is saying that thousands of people are in the streets protesting so that a few people can loot stores, vandalize property and shoot guns. If that were true, it would be an astonishing coordination of activities – far too astonishing to be true. Yes, some people are looting and vandalizing, yet there has been very little of that, considering the depth of the rage and sorrow that blankets that community. Suggesting that looting is the purpose of the demonstrations and protests requires a willful self-blinding to the suffering of others, this on an epic level.
Nearly all the people in the streets are there not just because Michael Brown appears to have been murdered by an angry cop, but because Brown is just the latest black male to be killed in a string of violence visited upon people of color by “the authorities” – the ones who are supposed to protect all of us from violence. Brutality like that goes back hundreds of years in America. There are too many dead kids who were treated as guilty until proven innocent and then given a trial and sentencing by Judge Service Revolver. There have been too many anguished mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Whatever Michael Brown was, he did not deserve a hail of bullets as his hands were raised in surrender.
So, that lady who called the talk show is probably wrong in her assumption of why people are in the streets of Ferguson, MO. But why would she make such a huge leap beyond good sense? That is the second part of the double “Huh?”
We human beings have a natural fear of those who are different from us. It’s a tribal instinct born of the ancient, existential imperative to survive. Back then those who were known were presumably safe, while those who were unknown seemed different and might have been lethal to us. That was a valuable attitude 20,000 years ago. It’s not as valuable today, amidst the conglomeration of people in our urban and suburban settings.
Every one of us is uncomfortable with not knowing, so we make up stories to fill in the blanks. If you pay attention, you’ll find yourself doing it multiple times a day. The corollary to that is that when we are anxious, the stories we make up are always negative. And it is only a small, self-protective leap from not knowing someone to wild assumptions about them.
Apply that to caller lady and you might get this knee-jerk progression:
– Those people are rocking the stability of my world and that makes me feel anxious.
– They don’t live in my neighborhood and they look different from me. In fact, they look like a lot of the perps I see in mug shots on the evening news. I’m afraid of them.
– I don’t know why all those people are in the street but they look angry and scary.
– Some of them are looting and vandalizing.
– They’re probably all crooks and they’re protesting so that they can loot stores and vandalize other people’s property.
It takes just a few short steps to jump from anxious near-ignorance to the comfort of “knowing” crazy stuff. Worse, in doing so there is no need to stretch ourselves and find compassion for people in pain.
Ferguson, o’ Ferguson, I hurt for you and for all the Fergusons with different names but with the same torment. I even hurt for caller lady and her self-imposed tribal limitations that keep her small and extend the hate in America. But, honestly, not much.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same. Thanks. JA
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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