Finding Our Humanity

a thought piece:

It’s easy to look at the image below, supposedly circulated by a Florida Neurosurgeon and start screaming about ignorance and layers of racism – from anti-black, to anti-indigenous, to west vs. rest, etc – but where does the screaming get us?

090724 us hc racistanti-health care flier/unattributed

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how do we make the people strapping on guns to go to health care town hall meetings and the people openly and contemptuously mocking them see their similarities and heal their wounds? In thinking about the ways that both sides dehumanize the other – white nationalists telling “Obama [to] go home” as if citizenship is only the birthright of white folks vs lefties openly mocking scared grandmothers who actually think the health care plan really is going to kill them to save money – there seems to be only more polarization ahead.

Like in war, dehumanization is the first step to creating and sustaining the belief in an enemy that deserves any act of violence you choose to rain down on them. Whether that enemy is external, as in the case of cold wars or wars on terror, or internal as in the perpetual marginalization of poc, is irrelevant. Once robbed of our humanity, the ability for people to solve conflict with diplomacy and to act in the best interests of all people is lost. And as identities flatten out, some members of marginalized groups tend to cling to the ones that bring them the most power to the detriment of their own group as well as that of others.

While I was thinking about how to shift the tide back toward recognizing our shared humanity, I came across a music video post @ Guerilla Mama Medicine. The video from Outlandish, a Muslim and Catholic band from Denmark, is based on a poem written by a Palestinian girl about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. Before I read the background, I interpreted the beginning of the video as being about the problems that Iraqi and Afghan citizens face each day under the “war against terrorism.” The reason? Ultimately, the tools of dehumanizing whole groups to sustain a sense of “the enemy” is the same.

On the one hand, Outlandish seemingly trivializes the problems of the U.S.:

Your biggest fear is getting a ticket
as you cruise your cadillac
My fear is that the tank that just left
will turn around and come back

In this way the lyrics uphold the idea that generalizing and rendering the other unsympathetic is a practice that everyone ultimately uses. In a Fanonian sense, it is an internalized tool of colonialism that we then turn on each other or those [neo-]colonizers we wish to overthrow. By imagining us all as rich and entitled, it makes it easier to hate us for the problems that they endure; that image fuels inequality as sure as it is born from it b/c it prevents global solidarity against shared or similar oppressions. To me, that solidarity is the only route to real change.

On the other, this poem/song does in fact recognize that not everyone is invested in certain power dynamics and profit over people.

Yet do you know the truth of where you money goes?
Do you let the media deceive your mind?
. . .
Americans do you realize
that the taxes that you pay
Feed the forces that traumatize my every living day?

The song/poem cries out to the people “on the other side” to see the humanity of those struggling to survive. It asks us to take responsibility for the actions of our government and to envision a different way, not by shaming or belittling us for doing nothing or believing propaganda, but by illustrating the humaness of “the enemy” and the human cost of ignorance. In so doing, it recognizes that the route to solidarity is fraught with real faultlines in which those with access to power can always destroy those without it and have done so in the past. And yet it chooses hope over despair, believing that if we educate ourselves and talk to one another we can change the world (radical love).

The song/poem also reminds those with the power to end this war that real human beings, innocent human beings, are trying to live their lives in a war zone that no longer discriminates between combatants and civilians. The language of dehumanization has turned everyone into an enemy and the acts of war have transformed civilians into reluctant warriors on either side.

On the grandest of scales, the decision to demonize an entire faith and its people in order to justify unending war is the same tactic as demonizing a “minority” population within the nation in order to justify unending conflict with them, regardless of the occassional cease fire. In both cases the goals are two-fold: control over economic capital and unification of otherwise conflictual identities. More simply: American Democracy vs. Middle Eastern “barbarians” for the rights to control oil, natural resources (including poppy), and White nationalists vs. “Black barbarians and immigrant hordes” for control over the nation’s wealth, resources, jobs, and advancement are two sides of the same power over approach. In both cases, the poor lose as internal and international nationalisms erase their real material and health needs and use them as front line fodder in real and imagined battles. Working class soldiers lose their lives on the battlefields of wars we have all forgotten and working class people lose their lives in their foreclosed homes or on the streets while ideological battles of legitimacy rob them of affordable health care.

Swastika Health caredefaced after Af-Am Rep Scott of GA tried to correct anti-health care person at Town Hall Mtg

AP Photo/John Bazemore

While President Obama believed Town Hall Meetings on health care would turn the tide for health care reform, he forgot how easily those meetings turned into racialized expressions of nationalism during the primaries. Where people once chanted about “paling around with terrorists” they now mix the rhetoric of socialism, fascism, nazism, and communism without any understanding of how these systems contradict or their own actions reflect some of the core values of the most oppressive regimes that adhered to them. The reality is that fear and hatred are much easier to stir up than understanding and open communication. As Claire McCaskill pointed out her town hall meeting, she came to “answer any question you have” but instead fielded only veiled threats and character assasination. Did anyone learn anything about the health care package at her meeting or any other one? And has anyone asked why questions about Obama’s origins, his leadership’s constitutionality, and repeated half-truths and misunderstandings about things that are either not in the bill or not as interpreted have come to matter more than that was is in the bill and what it will mean to millions of uninsured and poorly insured N. Americans?

Like the song above, sadly, some people are more worried about having to trade in their Benz for Cadillac while the rest of N. America walks. Some people worry about getting bored in their vacation home, while the rest of N. America worries that their cough will turn into something chronic and uncovered by their insurance. And those people are convincing anyone who will listen that it is not the livelihoods of the rich but the sanctity of the nation that is at stake. Our’s is a nation quick to adopt nationalism dependent on erasure and suppression of racial and ethnic others, ala Buchanan’s claim that the nation was built by white people alone and had only 10% poc, all black.

So how do we change things, when history shows that divide and conquer, especially when racialized, has always been the strongest of the Master’s Tools?

As one of my new TAs said as she poured over the paper during our meeting last week: it starts with talking to,  rather than talking down.

And so let it finally start. If you are going to a town hall meeting in your area, don’t follow the eye for an eye model that so many liberal pundits have been advocating as a response. Resist the urge to belittle those around you, even if the only way you can is by reminding yourself that you would not talk to nor listen to a person who belittled you. Condescension is easy; opening your heart and your mind and talking to those people liberal discourse tells you are ignorant bigots like they are your brothers and sisters is revolutionary.

If we really are going to shake off the master’s tools and build a better world, we have to start with ourselves. Help the grandmother see that she will not be standing in front of some death panel if the health care plan passes rather than mocking her fear and calling her racist (even if she is). While some people may never change, the struggle to model a different world is right and good even when it is hopeless. Remember, it was radical love (the belief that our humanity would win out) that motivated every multi-racial movement in the world and every liberation struggle. Without those movements the limited equality we have gained for so many would still be a pipe dream.

Ultimately, what is more important: pointing out how stupid or offensive certain aspects of the protests have been or bringing the message back to the basic fact that health care is not a privilege, any more than peace is, but that it is a human right.

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