I’m a member of subgroup, one that has been vilified by the standard bearers of western civilization for almost 2000 years. Growing up under the shadow of World War II and the destruction of almost half of my subgroup I was hyper-sensitive to the stereotypes with which the larger community wanted to define us: we controlled the world’s finances, we destroyed world economies on a whim, our women had unusual and hypnotic sexual powers, we had murdered Christ and deserved calumny if not murder in return. In our Sunday School class, we learned about the many contributions to medicine, science, philosophy and the the arts which members of our subgroup had made; we cheered Sandy Koufax, for refusing to pitch in the World Series on one of our important holidays.
On July 19, I was out with an African-American friend when Rep. Steve King of Iowa made his vile and ill-judged remarks claiming that only caucasian Christians had made significant contributions to civilization. I was ashamed, to be in my white skin while she heard yet one more insult directed at her subgroup. My first impulse was to go back to my Sunday school practice, and detail the many contributions that African-Americans and Arabs, and Asians had made (I even wanted to sneer at Mr. King: without Arab contributions to civilization he wouldn’t know he’s a zero) but that is not only crude and childish, it’s irrelevant.
No adding up of contributions by others will ever persuade people like Mr. King that we all have played a role in keeping our great planet rolling on its axis. And it’s beside the point. The point is, we need to treat each other with respect. There are 7 billion of us living cheek by jowl, with access to weapons of mass destruction, with the ability to enrich each other’s lives or destroy them.
Dr. King said,
Instead of diminishing evil, [violence] multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
These aren’t platitudes, hugs, or prayers. These are world-changing ideas. I want to live in that world, not the one of hatred and sneers. So I retract my sneer about the zero. I will try to treat Rep. King with the respect that I expect him to use toward every American, indeed, toward every person on this planet. Not an easy task. Working on it.