As an educator, I was taught to keep my political views to myself, that pushing my personal political agenda, or a personal religious agenda, is an abuse of my power as an educator. I whole-heartedly believe this. Teachers don’t necessarily think of themselves in “the power position,” but they are and that is why so many people take issues with educators. Teachers have the power to change the way another person thinks. Usually that change in thought process remains in the realm of new ways to solve a problem, or understanding the way the environment works, but sometimes a student sees the world in a different way. While that is amazing and wonderful on the one hand, on the other hand, the questions must be asked, “Have I changed the student to be more like me? Is the influence, the change in perspective, making the student think the way I think?” That is power: the ability to make people think the same way you do.
My a-politicalness became a habit. My Facebook friends can verify that I rarely post anything politically or religiously critical – the occasional Moses meme around Passover, maybe, but that’s about it. But after the pronouncement by the President of the United States defending Nazi’s and the KKK and White Supremacy, the famous Edmund Burke quote kept running through my head, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” OK, so Burke was an 18th Century privileged white guy. And I changed the word “men” that is actually in the quote to “people.” But Burke was a member of British Parliament under King George III. Does that ring a bell, King George III? This country fought its first war, an insurgency against that King and his country, in order to revolutionize how government worked and began this great American Experiment. And Burke spoke out against the King because George III had taken actions that were in direct contrast to the British Constitution. Burk felt that the actions of the King were unconstitutional.
I think back to one of my favorite moments as a teacher. It was 15ish years ago. The student was the first Muslim girl I had in class who chose to cover herself. She was very bright, very opinionated, and very good at supporting her arguments. She sat in my classroom, always questioning, always dubious of what I was saying. As the year went on, we continually challenged each other. As an English teacher, where so many things can be debatable, this was great. I loved it because I could always count on her to get the class discussion moving. The last day of class, as she was getting ready to leave, she turned around to me and said, “I never thought a Muslim girl like me could have so much love for a Jewish woman like you.” Just typing that now brought back the initial sense of shock of that statement coming out of her mouth. I had never considered that any of what I had assumed was intellectual doubt may have been connected to a deeper, more insidious reason: I am Jewish, she is Muslim, and she was brought up to believe that Jews are the enemy. I was a naïve 40. I have no idea where she is now. And I changed the way she thought, which I sometimes think is good – tolerance is not enough, we must learn to understand one another. Sometimes I think it is bad, because who was I to influence her in such a way? And I justify it to myself by saying, “It was not my intention to make her change her perspective.”
A new set of Heineken commercials is set to air this fall. Have you seen the trailer for them? They are about coming together and understanding that we have differences. A society overcomes individual differences for the good of the group. That’s the whole group. And, sure, someone once told me that I am so far left (Alt-Left?) that I smell like a Socialist (which was funny, although I don’t quite know what it means, and it isn’t completely accurate) because I believe in helping others rise up. I believe in raising my children, all of them – biological, by marriage, educational, and not just watching them get older. A peer once asked how I can be so liberal and still have such strong family values. I don’t know why people see believing in helping others rise up and having my family as my life priority are mutually exclusive, but for a while there, the political spin-masters would have the public believe that.
I am not some lovey-dovey-the-world-is-all-rainbows-and-unicorns kind of person. There are things I dislike and things I hate. And people, too. Please be honest. I am reading things on Facebook right now about not hating and how this one doesn’t hate and that one doesn’t use the word hate and tells her children not to use the word hate. But it comes out of all of our mouths. I have unfriended people on Facebook, stopped following people on Twitter, stopped communicating with people in the real world, sometimes because I get tired of the politics, or the religion, but mostly the self-righteousness. As soon as I assert that I am somehow above all of this, that I am somehow better, I become a part of this problem. I, too, have hated. I, too, am a part of the problem.
And I don’t know who did what in Charlottesville, because I wasn’t there. But in this media age, there are a lot of videos and a lot images to sort through, which I did. I have read many articles from a variety a news sources – which is my habit. Of all of the video clips I watched, the President’s speech was the most disturbing. These demonstrators were Nazi’s. They were KKK members. The Nazis LOST World War II. The South LOST the Civil War. Civil Rights PASSED. If someone is looking for Divine Justice, why would that Creator have let those outcomes arise? Nazis killed members of my family, although they used the word exterminate because to them the members of my family were vermin. It is hard to give them a “pass” and not hate. In my opinion, “very fine people” do not join with those who can look at another person and think, ‘you are less than human.’
And I say that as someone who has taught thousands of students. In that thousands of students, there have been those who I did not like, those who I can say I hated. I’ve had books thrown at me, desks flipped, I have been told I am the worst teacher ever; I had a student say, “Suck my dick.” But among the students I hated were not the Muslim girl, or even the Holocaust Denier.
I may look white to you, but I am not. I did a DNA test. I am 94% Eastern European Jew. And Jews are not white. Sure my skin is light, and my eyes are blue, and my nose is small, but my DNA tells the real story. And that other 6%? Indian, Greek, and Gaelic (everyone is a little Irish, right?) If the Nazis came to my town, right now, they would take my children and me away to a camp. If the KKK marched through my town, they would burn a cross on my lawn, or maybe lynch me. I am a mother, wife, school-teacher; I like to garden, preserve food, knit, and write. I recently got back into running, but let’s face it, at 53, I am not really much of a physical threat. These groups would have me shot because of the random chance of my DNA (The 2% Indian was a real surprise. It makes me wonder what DNA surprises might lurk in these White Supremacists).
I struggle with contempt frequently. I think we all do. And if we are being honest, one thing that unites us right now is contempt for those who do not agree with us. It may be a negative starting point, but it is common ground. We are Americans. We feel entitled to our First Amendment Right. People fought and died for me to have that sense of entitlement. We have that in common, too, that entitlement. And as Americans, it is incumbent upon us to remember the words of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (emphasis mine)
We are powerless over hate. It exists in all of us, and all around us. If we are born for love, in order to understand it, we must accept that its opposite also exists in us. And, as both sides keep hammering, we are all entitled to our opinions and the First Amendment guarantees my right to have and express that opinion. But the violence has got to stop. Violence. Has. Got. To. Stop. Yes, Black lives matter AND Blue lives matter, because ALL LIFE MATTERS. Even the life of the person I hate. I can hate them all I want, but I am outside of my rights to do violence to what I hate. My pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness cannot infringe on someone else’s pursuits of the same.
Later in the essay by Edmund Burke he says, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Do not be an unpitied sacrifice. As good people, we need to come together, to work together, to unexpectedly find love in our hearts for those we thought were so different from ourselves. Among my closest friends are people that I am a political polar opposite, but it never once made me stop loving them or consider not being friends with them. I will be judged by people; I will be hated by people; I will do the same – it is human nature and I make no apologies for being human. I will be a hypocrite; I am flawed; I will sin because I am not perfect. But I will try to be more kind. I will not be violent. I will not take violent action against another person.
Bottom line: I cannot control hate. And I will not condone violence, nor the suppression of another because of the random act of DNA. White supremacists hate people because of their DNA, something they did not choose. People hate White Supremacists because of their ideology, something that they did choose.