Water Man Spouts

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Hate that Hate Produces

For my generation, "The Hate that Hate Produced" was a 1959 TV documentary in which Louis Lomax and Mike Wallace introduced middle class white America to the Nation of Islam. It featured the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, and most importantly, Malcolm X. The next generation knows it as a Sister Souljah production, with some curious relationship with the 1992 elections. We all have our personal and generational experiences with the dark side of American life, with racism, sexism, and other "-isms" that divide us as people, and which too often produce anger and hatred.

In 1959, Minister Malcolm X was still preaching Elijah’s gospel of separation. When the sun goes down and the danger of the darkness becomes the greatest, he said, every being naturally sought out its own type for security: black birds with black birds, blue birds with blue birds, and on and on.

In the early 1960s, Malcolm began to question Elijah’s rigid separation theology. He had contact with politicians and attorneys including Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Percy Sutton, and Charles Rangel. He also began to work in cooperation with some of the more radical grass roots civil rights leaders. And, indeed, after being expelled from the NOI, Malcolm began to have contact with Martin Luther King, Jr.

At one of his last public meetings, an advocate of separatism confronted Malcolm: "We heard you changed, Malcolm. Why don’t you tell us where you’re at with them white folks?" Village Voice writer Marlene Nadle wrote that "without dropping a syllable he (Malcolm) gave a black nationalist speech on brotherhood" (2-25-65)

"I haven’t changed," he said. "I just see things on a broader scale. We nationalists used to think we were militant. We were just dogmatic. It didn’t bring us anything. …. We’ve got to give the man a chance. …We’ve got to be more flexible. … I’m not going to be in anybody’s straitjacket. I don’t care what a person looks like or where they come from. My mind is wide open to anyone who will help get the ape off our backs."

In the late 1960s and the ‘70s, the democratic party began to change. It involved struggle. There were groups that had their own identity, and which were able to access political and social power by having a "special interest" that translated into a voting block. Two that come to mind were blacks and women. But there were also many other groups, including other non-white people, anti-war and social justice activists. Many groups had overlapping interests.
Alone, each of the individual groups was like a finger that their enemy could easily break. Together, they formed a powerful fist that could be used to protect everyone’s interests.
The democratic party experienced other changes. In ’68 and ’72, a large number of people in the southern states moved into the republican camp. And in 1980, the neoconservatives also changed party affiliation.

The strength of the democratic party was the ability to unite people, and to engage in "the Good Fight." A generation of progressive leaders had been schooled in the arts of struggle by men like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. There were also many leaders at other levels, from Cesar Chavez to Gloria Steinem to David Dellinger and many others, who may or may not have been members of the democratic party, but who worked in cooperation with others advocating a just society.

The fight has never been easy, and every gain that has been made in 40 years has required sacrifice. The forces that oppose a just society have attempted to isolate and break different groups, usually by turning one against another. In the past few years, more of the democrats at the grass roots level have become aware of the growing threat to our nation, including attempts to destroy the Constitution.

Throughout human history, dictators have always known that in order to oppress a group of people, one needs to appeal to what Robert Kennedy called "the darker impulses." If a "leader" can make a population hate and fear a common "enemy," they can trick those people forget about their own low level of being. Yet this can only lead to an eventual break-down in any society.

That Constitution is the social contract that can keep our society from a total break-down. It requires that we learn from history, and not repeat those mistakes that have kept us from maintaining higher ground. Our difficulties are not only caused by the actions of people like Bush and Cheney. In the past seven days, we see the democratic primary contest raising issues of racism, sexism, and conflict between social classes.

Too often, we identify issues in "us" versus "them." We can find goodness and strength in being male and female; black, brown, red, yellow and white; young and old; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, and atheist; heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual. Or we can allow these same things to divide and weaken us.

Hatred and fear lead to violence. Always. It has done so all around the globe, throughout history. It has happened here, and not just in the Civil War. Just as mosques have been bombed in Iraq, we have had churches bombed in America. We have had abortion clinics bombed. If we read the reports of the Southern Poverty Law Center, we find many current examples of hatred translating to the ugliest forms of violence, targeting our brothers and sisters because they are Jewish, or gay, or have brown skin.

We must unite, and work towards making our society safe and just. This includes putting the lessons of Martin and Robert into practice. It does not mean that we allow ourselves or our families to be victims. Nor does it mean that we take on the tactics of those we must confront, from the violent thug on the street to the advocates of hatred in the White House.

2008 should not become known for the hate that hate produced. We need to put our differences behind us, to the greatest extent possible, and focus on what we have in common. And then, and only then, can we move towards that higher ground.


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