Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Some thoughts on prejudice

By Capt. Fogg

 Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin,
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies

 -Phil Collins-

What is an observation without a frame of reference?  We like to think we can observe facts and make rational deductions, but we can't.  Anyone with training in psychology as it pertains to law enforcement  is likely to tell you that eye witness accounts of the same occurrence will vary markedly and it's been clearly demonstrated that observers concentrating on one thing will be completely unaware of  important people and objects in their direct view.

When I read about an unarmed African American "child" kneeling with his hands up being shot multiple times, I was truly irate, I was ready to write off reports of his just having perpetrated a class B felony and his having charged a policeman who had ordered him to stop as racism. It fits with my habitual beliefs about the police and racism.  I may well have been totally wrong and it may not be the first time, but if it turns out that the 6 foot 4 200 pound "Child" did in fact charge the officer, things might just be other than I was primed to believe.

You might relate it to the halo effect: the tendency to have a view of people and things because of, in this case, his being a member of a traditionally disadvantaged class We do after all read about all sorts of injustice based on race and racism seems to explain a lot. But sometimes, of course we're wrong. Sometimes we fail to see things through the eyes of people who run stores and gas stations in "bad" areas whose lives are in danger every day.  Is it too easy for me  to condemn it from the safety of my gated community and the comfort of my air conditioned office? It depends on your viewpoint, your frame of reference, the things you associate with other things because your human and you have a memory.

For most of my life, I was firmly convinced that Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg were framed.  I galled me that they were Jews and their trial and execution would reflect on me.  I found it easy to find detailed opinions as to their having been innocent. There were lots of people who agreed, lots of signs and protests from lots of convinced people. People I despised were convinced of their guilt. I was ready to see the whole sad affair as yet another example of the persecution of liberals and most of all Jews.  In fact I was passionate about it. I was wrong.

But we see connections between things, relationships, reminders and all the things that lumped together are called bias and prejudice.  Watching the endless coverage of the gruesome and heartbreaking killing of Stephen Sotloff -- the tall dark man with the knife condemning Obama, blaming Obama for what he was about to do and threatening to do it again and again, in the name of peace and freedom  My rage and loathing must surely have been augmented by the years and years of hearing similar rhetoric from Republicans of all sorts, from Fox News to barber shop conversations. It's going to be hard to temper my rage at the endless Obama bashing and ceaseless hatred of human values. These things are inexorably linked in my mind.

And what do we think of Vlad the Invader?  Putin is an arrogant, dishonest, power hungry autocrat, contmptuous of  Democracy, decency, human rights and Liberty. Contemptuous of us. Have you been listening to how Fox and its followers have been praising him as the kind of bold, confident leader American needs?  If you're a Republican you will have forgotten this instantly, but you'll still be contemptuous of Obama and blame him for being weak, for not waving our nuclear penis around. I still remember though and every time I hear you barking about strength, I will associate it with your fascination with tyrants. Evey time you call Obama a tyrant I will remember. Every time I hear you call him weak and indecisiveness, I will associate it with your praise of ruthless aggression.  I will never, ever trust you to tell us the time of day even if my watch confirms it. I know who you are and what you've done and it's all been a pack of lies.

So, yes, I'm human.  Yes, I know there is wisdom and enlightenment in trying to see things through other eyes, but there is discomfort in equal amounts from remembering, from associating or correlating one thing with another. I suffer from rage and closed mindedness and prejudice like everyone else does, so when I see bloody handed monsters I will think of Republicans. When I hear the word "conservative" I think of hate, of tyranny, of  arrogance -- of evil.  the camera can't show it, but I know that face behind the black mask and I see him everywhere.

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