I’m currently reading “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s about the Great Migration of Blacks from the South to anywhere but the South. It should be required reading for every American. It is at the same time incredibly depressing and incredibly inspiring. Read It.
In the book, there are anecdotes about sheriffs harassing Black folk under the guise of the law. All in the name of keeping Blacks “in their place”. All I could think about was how eerily familiar it all sounded. Then I realized; It’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio! For those of you that don’t know, Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maracopa County in Arizona. He spends much of his time giving people who aren’t white (mostly Hispanics) a hard time. So much so that he has been investigated by the Department of Justice. When he’s not doing that, he’s busy treating inmates incredibly poorly and setting up concentration camps (his own words!). He also has a really bad habit of ignoring sex crimes. A good segment of the Right practically worship this man. He is re-elected time and again. He likes to claim that he’s America’s toughest sheriff, but he’s really only tough against a certain segment of society that has no power. We normally call people like that bullies.
We’ve come a long way since the Jim Crow South. We’ve also come not very far at all. Joe Arpaio is just a symptom, though. He’s a symptom of a disease that has festered in the American psyche since her birth. That disease is fear of The Other. The Other can change from generation to generation, but it has been omnipresent in our society. First it’s the Irish and then the Jews then the Italians then the Blacks then the Hispanics then the Gays then the Muslims. It goes on and on and on.
The Other is a weapon that the powerful use to keep The Ignorant on their side. The Ignorant are often not stupid people. Most often, they are just people that have a lot on their mind and plenty of injustices inflicted upon themselves. The Others just provide an easy scapegoat for the problems of The Ignorant. The Others have never been a group to fear. They’re just a group trying to make life a little better for themselves than they had the day before. That is their defining characteristic. That makes them exactly like us.
There is a trivially easy solution to the plight of The Other. We all know the Ignorant. They are our family. They are our friends. They are our neighbors. Too often, we ignore the illogical ramblings of The Ignorant because it is socially awkward to do so. That has to stop. Speak up. Say something. Do so politely, but firmly. You will likely not change the mind of the person speaking. But others are watching. Others are listening. Others will learn. Teach them. This plus time are our weapons. Wield them wisely.