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’ll walk hand in hand…
We are not afraid…
(With thanks to Dan Rather for the inspiration)