Sunday, October 23, 2016

Whether It's US Election Divisions Or Israelis And Palestinians - We're All Humans And We Need To Work It Out

Here's an LA Times headline on that got this post going. 
"This election is much more than Trump vs. Clinton. It's old America vs. new America"
OK, in some ways I don't disagree with the authors.  But we've been hearing variations of this for quite a while now.  Here's some of the script:
"There’s the old one — a distinction not of age alone, but cultural perspective and outlook — that Trump appeals to as he courts white, rural voters and social conservatives.  .  . 
And there’s the new America, the one Hillary Clinton has homed in on with her appeals to women, gay and lesbian Americans, the young, and minorities."
This has been the story of the US since we were colonies.  Each group already here is threatened by the newcomers.  The newcomers are less human, less civilized, don't speak proper English, will take us over and destroy what we have.  

And then the newcomers become the old guys who say the same thing about on new newcomers.

Here are some quotes from the past:

‘’Help wanted but No Irish need Apply’’

From a long letter by Benjamin Franklin on the problem of German immigrants:
Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation, and as Ignorance is often attended with Credulity when Knavery would mislead it, and with Suspicion when Honesty would set it right; and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain.
How about Italians?  Here's from Wikipedia:
"After the American Civil War, during the labor shortage as the South converted to free labor, planters in southern states recruited Italians to come to the United States to work mainly in agriculture and as laborers. Many soon found themselves the victims of prejudice, economic exploitation, and sometimes violence. Italian stereotypes abounded during this period as a means of justifying this maltreatment of the immigrants. The plight of the Italian immigrant agricultural workers in Mississippi was so serious that the Italian embassy became involved in investigating their mistreatment. Later waves of Italian immigrants inherited these same virulent forms of discrimination and stereotyping which, by then, had become ingrained in the American consciousness.[11]
One of the largest mass lynchings in American history was of eleven Italians in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1891."
 My point?  All the same rhetoric - fear of crime, loss of jobs, loss of culture and language, are nothing new.  This has been the reaction of the people already here to every wave of new immigrants.

 Immigrants with darker skin aren't any different from the immigrants that have been coming to North America since the Pilgrims.  They all eventually assimilate and become Americans.

BUT, it's harder for darker skinned immigrants because white Americans can't seem to get past their skin color and keep treating them badly.  It's not their culture or their language or their religion.  Protestants didn't like Catholics, or even different kinds of Protestants.  

For white immigrants all that evolves into a culturally 'acceptable' American ethnicity with Columbus Day and St. Patrick's Day parades after a generation or two.  Blacks and Mexicans and Filipinos can't as easily anglicize their names and 'fit in' like Germans and Poles and even Italians and Jews.

So let's stop making like this is a cultural shift that is significantly different from what's happened in the past.  Or that Americans from non-European backgrounds have cultures so different from mainstream America that this is different from European immigration.  It's not.

It's the same old rhetoric.  The only difference is the difficulty of some whites to accept people who can't pass as white even after they speak perfect 'American' English.  The new immigrants are not even necessarily less conservative on many social and economic issues, but since they've experienced discrimination themselves, the go to the party that is more tolerant and accepting.

Before the Tea Party and Trump gave them a place to go, the only liberal allowable targets of discrimination were' hillbillies' and 'white trash.'  Now let's see if liberals can start turning our our tolerance to these groups.  Can we start listening to their stories and understanding why they hate others, why they need to dominate women?  It's not as though some liberal men don't also treat women poorly.  It's not that we have to accept their views, but at least we should understand where they come from, listen to their narratives, like we do all the other groups?  

Liberals have tolerated racist and misogynist rap lyrics.  Why not take the same view of Trump's misogynist supporters that Kanye West uses to at least explain, if not excuse, misogyny in rap?
“So let’s take that to the idea of a black male in America, not getting a job, or getting fucked with at his job, or getting fucked with by the cops or being looked down upon by this lady at Starbucks. And he goes home to his girl … and this guy is like … you just scream at the person that’s the closest to you.” West linked the use of misogynistic and violent language in rap to a “lack of opportunities” before switching tack and discussing hatred and racism.
I'm not suggesting any misogyny or racism is acceptable.  But we have to understand how men get to that place and figure out how to shape our society so it doesn't produce so many angry, dispossessed people.  We have to understand their narrative and help them see that there are other narratives.  Perhaps that their economic woes aren't really due to immigrants, but to weakened labor laws, weakened economic regulation of corporations, and tax laws that help the rich get much richer and the poor poorer.  The ruling class has used race to divide and conquer for ever.  For the wealthy right, 'class' is a politically incorrect topic.

Here is an example of that idea in a totally different context.  I just read an interview in the Sun Magazine with a Jewish Israeli and a Muslim Palestinian who both are committed to nonviolence and belong to Combatants for Peace.  The Israeli, Rami Elhanan, tells the interviewer at one point:
Elhanan: There are two possibilities: One, people open their eyes and realize we have to change. (This is the less likely possibility right now.) Or, two, we end up with an all-out war that results in oceans of blood and won’t lead to a resolution, because we won’t be able to push the Palestinians into the desert, and they won’t be able to throw us into the sea. The war will just go on and on. In the long run I fear for the existence of Israel. So many young, educated Israelis go abroad and don’t come back. Almost everyone has family members who live in other countries. And the ones who are leaving are the intellectuals and the artists and the scientists — people we need to ensure the survival of a democratic society. The ones left behind are the ultra-Orthodox and the less educated. Sometimes I see it as a coming apocalypse. It’s terrifying. But I don’t want to succumb to doomsday thinking. I want to believe that once people see that the price of war is greater than the price of peace, there will be a shift in attitude. You can’t live forever by the sword.
Hertog: Though it has often been tried in history.
Elhanan: That’s true. But it’s also true that historically all conflicts end. One year, two years, twenty years — in Ireland it took them eight hundred years to make peace. At some point we will have peace here as well.
Elhanan and his Palestinian counterpart and friend, Bassam Aramin go around talking to school kids.
Elhanan:  ". . . This morning, for example, a student sent me an e-mail saying I had shown him light in the darkness. That was from a boy in a military-preparatory course. These kids are idealistic and committed, but they know nothing. They are the product of indoctrination by the Israeli educational system. You should have seen these students: the tension, the emotions, the anger. They have rarely interacted with Palestinians and have learned to see them all as terrorists and criminals. It’s a shock for them to consider a different narrative. Bassam, who was with me, succeeded in breaking down their defenses and showed them an image of a Palestinian who is not a victim or an enemy, but who also does not surrender his pride. After a meeting like that, those kids did not walk out the same as they came in. They will continue thinking, and they will talk at home about what they have heard. That’s the work we do. There are no shortcuts. We change the narrative, person by person."
It's a powerful interview.  Both men have lost children to the conflict.  Both take huge risks doing the work they do.  It's inspiring for those who think there is no hope.
Elhanan: Nowadays everyone is hopeless. It’s fashionable to have no hope. People wave their despair as if it were some kind of flag. You can’t live like that, especially if, like me, you have already experienced the worst. You can’t just give up because the world is terrible. You have to find hope in small things.
I would say the political divide we have in the US is a minor disagreement compared to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.  Except for the indigenous people of North America, everyone else has no particular claim to being here that's better than anyone else's.  If "I'm more entitled than you because I've been here three generations and you only two generations" has any validity, then all of us who've been here less than 500 years should be banned and let North America's indigenous people, who have been here for 10,000 years or more,  have their land back.

We need to start, not talking, but listening to everyone.  We need to acknowledge other people's grievances and hopes, and then get them to do the same with ours.  It's not as hard as it seems because, in the end, we're all human beings.  We're born to into a family, have childhoods that turn into adolescence and adulthood, face the task of making our own living in the world, finding a partner, and starting the process over again.  These are the universal themes that unite human beings and make stories from any culture understandable to every other culture.

Here's an excerpt from the interview with the Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, on breaking past each others' narratives.
Aramin:  . . .  That first meeting lasted about three hours. I told a lot of lies, because I didn’t trust them, but it was amazing just to talk. They spoke about how they’d occupied us and harassed us — they admitted it!
They were real soldiers. I wasn’t much of a fighter. I had been arrested because I was part of a group of kids who’d thrown stones. My friends had also thrown two hand grenades at an Israeli patrol, but because they didn’t know how to use the grenades, nobody had been killed or injured. I felt I wasn’t at the same level as these Israelis. To impress them, I boasted that I had shot soldiers and that I had thrown the hand grenades at the Israeli patrol.
Hertog: If you didn’t trust the Israelis, what made you decide to meet with them?
Aramin: I already had one child at that time, and I was thinking of his future. I had decided that I needed to take responsibility, not just fight Israelis. And the Israelis needed to take part in ending the occupation. For them it was security; for me it was my life. We both wanted to find a solution. Palestinians need Israelis, so they can learn to understand us and explain our point of view to others in their society.
Hertog: How did Combatants for Peace come into being from that meeting?
Aramin: At the end of the meeting someone suggested that we meet again. I asked why, because I had assumed it was supposed to be just once. And one of the Israelis suggested that we could work together against the occupation. When he actually called it an “occupation,” I thought, Wow. And I agreed to meet again. In the period before our second meeting, we looked up all the information we could find about these Israelis, so we knew they were for real. Meanwhile they looked up what we had done. And when we met again after two weeks, we talked at a more personal level and discovered we actually had a lot in common.

We either work to make things better, or we let them get worse.  I don't see there being much of a choice here.

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