Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rally Against Hate

I have been debating whether or not to write about this incident which took place in the town where I live around three months ago. It struck me at the time as being revealing about the psychic state of current respectable society; and as that sense has not substantially diminished, I have decided to do a (hopefully) short posting about it.

The backstory: Sometime around the middle of September, some racist and xenophobic graffiti was discovered written on the walls of three houses where families of African refugees were living (Article here). The perpetrator(s) of this deed remain, as far as I know, unidentified to this hour. The ordinarily sedate local professional class immediately rose in impassioned and unified outrage to denounce this action and express to the all immigrants and people of diverse cultures and races in the community, how truly welcome they were, and how much the town had already been, and could expect to continue to be, improved in every conceivable way by the newcomers' presence. The incident was a godsend--no pun intended--for the creatively strained clergy at our family church, providing fodder for over a month's worth of sermons. Area schools held panels on the disturbing event in which such students as might be considered to be most impacted by it were encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and reassured that all of the school and other civic authorities were 100% on their side in opposition to the evil lurking among us. No less than two full blown demonstrations on the state house grounds were organized. The first and more impromptu of the pair, staged in the first flush of heat a couple of days after the story hit the papers, was dubbed the "Rally Against Hate"; while the second, held about a week afterwards, under the influence perhaps of slightly more sober deliberation, went by the sobriquet of "Love Your Neighbor". Among the distinguished speakers at the second event was the Episcopalian Bishop of the state of New Hampshire.

I have to confess at the time I found the response a little over the top, and partaking of perhaps a slight--very slight--portion of phoniness, as well as somewhat amusing. As usual my wife put me in my place by asking if I would rather live in a town where people did nothing, which naturally was not how I had been looking at the matter. Of course I do not approve of scrawling anonymous racist messages on the sides of houses and recognize the importance of demonstrating that such acts are unacceptable and will be unambiguously and publicly condemned whenever they occur and all the rest of it. But still. Even though there are apparently no leads as to who the criminal was, one presumes almost automatically that it was a white male of a low social origin and level of education, possibly a kid (meaning roughly anywhere from a teenager up to an especially developmentally arrested 22 year old), possibly a generic 30 to early 40-something failure of a person, but in general somebody whom the class of people making up the bulk of the rally participants (who, as you may have gathered, were educated white professionals) would have found easy enough to despise and feel anger towards.

On the occasion of both rallies I took care to drive by the state house at the time of day when they were in full flower with the intention of observing them up close and attempt to feed off the emotions that had overcome most of our town's leading citizens, but both times once I got to the site the idea made me uncomfortable and I neglected to get out of my car. Partly this was because each time I had my three youngest children with me, aged (at the time) 4 months, 2, and 5, and the prospect of carrying or monitoring them amongst a decent sized crowd brimming with righteous intensity was suddenly daunting in a way it had not seemed to be at home. But partly it was also because I knoew I could not bring myself to really identify with the crowd and the instinctive revulsion that they were tapping into, though at some level I obviously desired to. I had read quotes and, by the time of the second rally, seen pictures from the first in the newspaper, which featured several people I had a passing enough acquaintance with, and several others who seemed to me representative of a type, whose generosity of spirit in the context of day-to-day American society, however sincere their regard for the refugees might have been, and I have no reason other than my own personal prejudices for doubting that it was, I cannot help having some reservations about. So having determined that I was not going to be able to enter the necessary spirit, from whatever angle I would approach it, for engaging with the event, plus having all the children to take care of, I elected to sit it out.

All this said, I still think the response, while perhaps noble after a way, was a bit overwrought. I am convinced that the way people immediately jumped on this was as much an expression of their frustration and dissatisfaction with present political life than outrage at some racist grafitti written in the greatest likelihood by a totally inconsequential lowlife. Present day progressives especially do not know how to effectively combat the business interests and their political representatives on the economic and social justice and environmental issues, among others, that are dear to them. But everyone of any significance knows, and more importantly agrees upon, exactly what to do when an open display of racism, especially one by some hapless individual, rears itself, and they waste no time mobilizing all their available forces for action. I was surprised by how many serious and busy adults well into middle age felt that this incident called for their involvement and leadership in order for it to be gotten through satisfactorily. I am convinced there is some compensation happening here--guilt over not being able to prevent, or even disturb, the war, imposition of the security state, the concentration of wealth and the cavernous disparities of income, the total implosion of the lower third of the population, the decline of education, of culture, etc, etc. A protest against racism--which officially no one condemns or dares to ridicule--takes the form of an assertion of one's own relevance and virtue...

This essay is mostly complete. I was unable to nail the ending, but I have run out of time (self-imposed).

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