Peace and Justice Files

Herbert

By SKIP MENDLER
Posted 7/29/20

My friend Herbert (not his real name, of course) is, fundamentally, a very decent guy.

He works hard in a dirty job (he’s in one of the building trades), plays in some bands, is devoted to …

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Peace and Justice Files

Herbert

Posted

My friend Herbert (not his real name, of course) is, fundamentally, a very decent guy.

He works hard in a dirty job (he’s in one of the building trades), plays in some bands, is devoted to his family, and most assuredly loves his country. He’s also quite kind, easy-going and generous. We don’t see eye-to-eye on politics, not by a long shot, but he hasn’t let that get in the way. I don’t think he’s got a hateful bone in his body.

But as you can imagine, things are getting a little strained these days.

A couple of weeks ago, he posted a meme to Facebook that made me stop and think. “They must have run out of white privilege,” it said, “because I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got.”

This suggests to me that progressives and liberals have a real messaging problem on their hands. Not only have they not managed to explain the concept of “white privilege” clearly enough, they’re not listening sufficiently to the very real concerns of working-class whites who are being screwed over by the system as well.

Then, a few days ago, he passed along the following text, saying “this is EXACTLY how I feel”:

“I never cared if you were ‘gay’ or whatever acronym you chose to call yourself until you started shoving it down my throat.

I never cared what color you were, if you were a good human, until you started blaming me for your problems.

I never cared about your political affiliation until you started to condemn me for mine.

I never cared where you were from in this great Republic until you began condemning people based on where they were born and the history that makes them who they are.

I have never cared if you were well off or poor, because I’ve been both, until you started calling me names for working hard and bettering myself.

I’ve never cared if your beliefs are different than mine until you said my beliefs were wrong.

Now, I care. I’ve given all the tolerance I have to give. This is no longer my problem. It’s your problem. You can still fix it. It’s not too late. But it will be. Soon.

I’m a very patient person at times. But I’m about out of patience. There are literally millions of people just like me.

We have had enough.”

(I won‘t dissect the rhetoric here, but just note how the backlash against the discriminatory underpinnings of society gets twisted into a personal attack against one’s self instead. In this way, the leaders hide behind their followers.)

My response was simple: “There’s your problem,” I said. “You never cared.”

I should explain what I meant.

I didn‘t mean to imply that my friend was uncaring or heartless. Like I said, he‘s a decent guy. But like many of us, he may not have been paying attention to some of the history that has led us to the present.

He never cared... because he didn‘t know. He didn‘t know... because he didn‘t have to.

If you‘ve been raised in ignorance of the persecution suffered by minorities—if you don‘t know about the Tulsa race riots, or why Alan Turing or Matthew Shepard died, or who Emmett Till was (just to pick a few random examples)—then yes, it‘s easy to fall for the lie that what is happening now is an attack aimed at you personally, at your most prized values, at all you hold dear.

Herbert and those like him and the BLM activists and their allies are actually in the same boat. They’re all chafing under the injustices built into our system. That system, to preserve itself, is pitting them against each other.

If we could sit down and compare notes, and listen to each other’s stories respectfully, I think we’d be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

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