We shall overcome… someday

If my grandfather’s family hadn’t fled antisemitism in Europe in the early 19th century and built a new life in the United States, I wouldn’t be here now. This new country promised freedom from oppression and equal opportunity for all.

Even then, it was a promise that could not be kept. We now know how oppression of black people and native Americans shaped the country’s history. Somehow the myth evolved that the United States was a country that belonged to the Christian, white descendants of Western European countries. The racial hatred and bigotry that had been prevalent in Europe swept the New World as well. Even after two world wars, in which the allied forces fought for freedom from oppression, racial hatred only went underground; it did not disappear from the face of the earth.

But, for a long time, we were convinced that civilization had progressed and mankind had entered a more enlightened, more rational, and more compassionate path. Never mind that we were destroying the Earth’s eco-system in our never-ending urge for growth. At least we had learned to treat our fellow-humans with respect.

I admit: hatred and intolerance are not unique to our white, Christian culture. It seems to be ingrained in the DNA of the human race. Human history has been one long tale of war, oppression, and violence. Each side has their version of the story and their justifications for their particular form of violence. But we did, at one point, believe that we had evolved above this! What happened?

When I was young, I fought against ‘The Establishment’ that seemed to me to be the cause of discrimination and unjust wars. For a time I believed that the things our generation did had made a difference. But, under the veneer of progress the decay: the cancerous growth of hatred and arrogance was still present.

The recent events in Charlottesville show us the naked face of still-present evil. This video, filmed by HBO-VOX during that weekend of violence, shows the hatred and self-justification of the people who call themselves ‘nationalists’. It is an excruciatingly painful video to watch. But it is what we need to face and to not turn our faces away because it is too painful.

I urge my children and my children’s children to never grow complacent the way I did. Never believe that the world has outgrown the presence of evil. It hasn’t. Keep the candle burning for peace. Keep the belief in equality, respect, and love of our fellow men and our eco-system alive. Keep these words from my generation alive:

We shall overcome…

We’ll walk hand in hand…

We are not afraid…

Someday…today!

(With thanks to Dan Rather for the inspiration)

5 Comments:

  1. Thanks, again, Madeleine. I have been mulling over the same thoughts lately.

    My mother’s family were “Pennsylvania Dutch” and spoke German as well as English at home. I barely remember that, but singing German songs as a toddler is still there in foggy forms. I often wondered if their designation of their heritage was prompted by a need to NOT be German-American during the 30s and 40s. I can’t ask them now. A quick online search confirms that the term referred to German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and whose dialect became known as Pennsylvania “Deutsch” or Dutch. But they, too, might have felt the heat of American bigotry, even as white, Christian Europeans.

    It’s not a proud legacy of the US that we are still haunted by these prejudices.

    Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Rings true. In our youth we could see human rights, womens’ rights etc. evolving and were so hopeful for the future. We are back-sliding, but it will right itself… as you say…someday

  3. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    We are lost here in America. There are too few in Congress that have the courage to speak out against this hate driven administration. We desperately need a strong voice to lead us out of this horrible place we are in right now. When I watched those angry young men kicking a woman over and over as she tried to protect herself on the pavement, I thought, “This is what evil is; the complete loss of any emotion other than hate.” And now three people lost their lives in Charlottesville, trying to help make this world a better place. I join local marches as I want my grandchild to know that his grandmother marched for human rights and decency at a time when our nation needed to know that we will not accept hatred and bigotry and we will overcome it over and over again.

    • Bravo, Mary Lou! Harking back to our discussion on my previous post (Cynical), this is not a group I can feel compassion for. Possibly it contains a few lost souls who just need to belong. I have heard of people having a change of heart and leaving. All the more power to them. But, on the whole, this, to me, is the face of evil in the world.

  4. I have always tried to have an optimistic outlook so I hate to say it but the future looks bleak. We are only 17 years into the 21st Century and there have already been around 30 wars. When fighting enemies we can see, there is a chance. Now we are blindfolded; our enemies are all around us, unseen and unheard, in every corner of a world out of control. Now America hates itself maybe it will keep its nose out of other countries for a while and give itself time to heal a little. There’s little we can do when its government chooses to alienate the rest of the world who wants to work with its people. Unless we keep our population at sustainable levels (unlikely) and take care of our environmental issues (possible, just) there will be bugger all left. I wrote this poem a while ago and it didn’t make me feel good. https://jamoroki.com/2016/06/17/21st-century-wars/

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