“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.” – Bayard Rustin
“Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.” – Charlotte Bunch
“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” – Nelson Mandela
“Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” – Pope John Paul II
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refused to hate him.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Most of the time, I’m a positive person. I believe that humanity is making progress toward more peace, love and fulfillment for all people. I work to see the positive aspects of people and societies. However, there are times I’m brought down to despair by events. Today is one of those days.
This afternoon when I was eating lunch I found articles in both The New Yorker and The Atlantic which were posted on Facebook about Kalief Browder who, when he was 16 years old, was picked up for a theft he didn’t commit. He subsequently spent more than a thousand days (three years) on Rikers Island without a trial and nearly two years of it in solitary confinement. However, he was never brought to trial and eventually he was released, but by that time his life was shattered. While he was being held, he was abused and tortured. Much of this torture and abuse was recorded on tape, so no one can deny it happened.
Last Saturday, June 6th, Kalief Browder committed suicide. He’d finally succeeded after many attempts to kill himself, which were interspersed with attempts to put his life back together. His story came to the attention of celebrities who tried to help him, and who aided in bringing his story to the public, but none of it helped in the end.
When I read the articles about what happened to Kalief, I wept for his pain and for the pain of his family. And I had to ask myself are we’re living in a similar situation to Nazi Germany? We have more people in prison in this country than in any other industrialized country in the world. Most of those in prison are people of color, many convicted of crimes that, in other countries get light sentences. Are these people our Jews? Do we white people think we’re so superior that we have a right to mistreat those who aren’t like us? Are we so afraid of losing our way of life that we attack people who aren’t white? I just want to know how we think that perpetuating violence against anyone is going to make this country better. And I really don’t see how these kinds of acts uphold our Constitution.
Have we become so terrified that we attack black youths who go to a swimming pool, where they have passes, because someone there having a party wants to keep them out? Do we always assume that the person of color is the one who committed the crime? Do we assume that people of color don’t have the same feelings we do? Do we assume that poor people are lazy, that men have the right to abuse women physically and dictate the amount of money they can make and what health procedures they can and can’t choose for themselves, that the rich have some kind of superior wisdom, or that Christians should be the dominant religion in this country?
Today I’ve just had it with people who don’t stop and think rationally. I’m angry with people who aren’t willing to try to understand a situation from the other person’s point of view. I’m tired of people thinking they know what’s best for everyone else, and not stopping to examine their own lives. On the one hand I’m tired, angry and fed up, on the other I know that without the vast contrast between the society we have and the one we want, we’d never do anything to change.
I know there are rays of hope. I’m thankful that there are journalists who have been willing to write about tragedies like the one that happened to Kalief Brower and too many others. People who are willing to stand up and defend women and the poor. I’m grateful for people like Jackson Katz, who is an Anti-sexism educator, and who gave a TED talk titled “Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue.” If you can go watch his talk because he talks about how the dominant culture, sexes and religions can become invisible within the discourse of a society by assuming that the discourse should concentrate on those being abused rather than the abusers. It’s one way those who are in the dominant position become invisible and retain their power positions. When we don’t talk about them, they are invisible and are safe from scrutiny. The way we talk and use language is so very important.
There are indications that we humans are waking up and some are rocking the boat. And indications that we’re shaking up the status quo. There are those who are pointing out the thinking that has gone unexamined for perhaps centuries. I want to be one of those people. I’m going to pay closer attention to how I talk about these issues, but I’m also going to pay attention to how my friends, family, students, and colleagues talk about them as well. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut any longer. We need to be more tolerant of others who we think aren’t like us, and one way to do that is to take a good look at our thought patterns and own them.
I weep that almost everyday we hear another story about acts of violence because they deteriorate our ability to be sympathetic. Violence begets more violence and fear. The only way to stop it, is to stop it. To allow ourselves to get in touch with our emotions and realize that all human beings share similar feelings. We all want to be seen, heard, and loved just because we exist. I hope you will allow yourself to hear the stories of others and grieve, or rejoice with them.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share this with others.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015