I find myself meditating upon ignorance and stupidity. I guess because we're in America you should probably throw arrogance in there too. To attempt a conversation where people are not threatened, scared or offended unnecessarily, requires one (me, anyway) to be constantly pulling one's punches, so to speak. The goal is "to speak so people will hear what you are saying, rather than how you say it." It is, for the plain spoken among us, exhausting. Most of the time it is worth it, but there are times...
Let me just say that from time to time, I'm amazed at how utterly stupid people are. If a person doesn't know something, or has not encountered a particular circumstance, situation, or fact, we can say they are ignorant of said thing, situation, fact, etc., etc. This simply means they do not know. Ignorance can be fixed through education. I'm not sure what the remedy for stupidity is. I only know there is a heck of a lot of it out there. We are awash in stupid people.
What do I mean by that statement? Let's look at the dictionary definition.
adjective ( -pider, -pidest)
lacking intelligence or common sense : I was stupid enough to think she was perfect.
• dazed and unable to think clearly : apprehension was numbing her brain and making her stupid.
What would you choose to call people who abandon logic, reason, facts, and even certain tenets of their own faith, to instead cleave to beliefs that have been demonstrated as false? What is the name for people who keep telling everyone how wonderful the emperor's new clothes look, when the facts say he's naked? What does it take to suspend what even the 20% of the brain they use, is telling them? That is no longer ignorance. To refuse to be educated, enlightened, or to believe what is in front of your eyes is (wait for it...) stupid.
To see less than half of the whole picture and yet to be so absolutely sure of the righteousness of your view that you claim it to be the only possible, plausible truth is arrogant...and very American. But we have our hands full just trying to deal with ignorance and stupidity, so let's leave arrogance for another day. One more word we should talk about is "opinion." This entire discussion is my "opinion," one, I feel, that has it's basis in fact, yet is still filtered through my eyes.
While at my mother's house, I read two letters to the editor from a local paper. Former president Jimmy Carter had observed that race was a factor in much of the most vitriolic protests directed against Barack Obama. Regardless of the fact that the mainstream media had picked up this phenomenon some two years ago, during the campaign, Carter was the first prominent politician from the south and the only former president to come right out and say it. He said it in typical Jimmy Carter fashion, soft-spoken and matter-of-factly. The response for the political right was predictable, the response from president Obama was predictable, the response from the pundits on television was predictable, even the response from the perpetrators was predictable. So what's the problem, you might ask?
The problem was in the very predictability of all these responses. Denial, shock, outrage, more denial, all the usual suspects made their predictable appearances, each one bent on mitigating the damage caused to our national image by 85 year-old, white, Southern son, Jimmy Carter speaking the inconvenient truth. "The emperor has no clothes."
"The truth? You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"
Yet I felt compelled to tell the truth. Not a bad thing, you might say, and normally I'd agree. This time, however, the two letters I had read in the paper had the effect of stripping off much of the circumspect tone of much of my writing for public audiences. These letters were so full of stupidity that, even though I waited two days to pen my reply, the gloves were off. I tried not to be mean or unnecessarily hurtful, but I was direct. Letters are subject to editing by the newspaper staff, so one never knows what will be printed or discarded from the original manuscript. Still, something had to come out, to "protect the public good," lest I do something more disagreeable. So I wrote out my response and submitted it online. I haven't yet seen it in print. I have no regrets, but I do worry about what they will edit out. I hope I don't sound "stupid."
When someone of significant stature and personal experience, like president Carter, points out racism, we should take that opportunity to examine closely what has been brought to our attention. The way that racism stays alive is through the efforts of those who think they can dismiss and belittle it when it rears its ugly head.
Carter grew up in a time and place when it was perfectly acceptable to insult and belittle black people. The times have changed. Laws and our cultural expectations no longer allow for that kind of blatant racism. But, many hearts and minds did not change with the times. Many parents passed down racist ideas to their children since the civil rights successes of the 1960s.
I find it interesting, slightly amusing,and sometimes sickening to watch folks on the right and the left tap dance around the likelihood of race being a factor in the vitriolic and unprincipled attacks on president Obama. It continues the trend of the last eight years of feeding lies that virtually everyone knows are lies to the public and watching some people down them like fresh water in the desert. There is no doubt as to what is going on with many in the tea party and 9/12 communities. It's getting to the point that even long-time Republicans are starting to blush and squirm.
Rest assured, the verbal and visual attacks will get worse before they get better. As the idiots that perpetrate this kind of shlock figure out that they can hide to some extent behind what they perceive as "freedom of speech," which evidently includes the freedom to self-declare as uneducated dupes to be used at will by whomever chooses to push their "buttons." These buttons aren't hard to find. Jeanine Garafalo was correct when she called many of these people out, long before Carter. She described them perfectly when she said (paraphrasing here) that "you can tell some of these conservatives anything, and they'll believe it, except the truth."
I'm not saying that all anti-administration protesters fit with this racially motivated group, but I will say the vast majority of the extreme anti-Obama protesters do. And the fact that they can blend in with the Republican and conservative mainstream, both of whom seem challenged by the truth at the moment, does not flatter either group.
People refute Jimmy Carter's assertion by observing that Barack Obama disagrees with Carter's assessment. Well, duh... what the hell is he supposed to do? Barack Obama campaigned to be the president of the United States. Anything that emphasizes his racial background complicates that goal. He can't say anything about it, because he's the target of the protests. To do otherwise is to lose his momentum on the agenda of change he was elected to bring about. Instead look to those commentators that rarely speak about race in politics. They are all talking about it—either noticing the tenor of the protests and the racially based signage and comments or vehemently denying the influence of race at all, like Joe Wilson's son Alan, who is running for office in Georgia and claims his father "doesn't have a racist bone in his body." Does anyone believe that? If so, is it ignorance or stupidity?
We, as Americans, should be intelligent enough to figure out what is racist and what is not. We can't. The reason is because we have purposely arrested our development in this area. We really don't want to know. We choose to remain ignorant, rather than face the legacy of our history, understand it, and finally move past it. Instead, we claim loudly that we are already past it, and it is others that keep bringing it up, dragging us down, and reliving the past.
Carter's crime this past week, is that he exposed that claim for the lie that it is. In doing so, he was vilified and crucified even as we turn our backs on yet another teachable moment. Instead of standing up and moving forward to grapple forthrightly with the problem, we retreat behind flimsy excuses and hollow denials that we know to be false. Yet we cling to them like drowning people clinging to a life preserver that won't float. We'd be far better off to release that dead weight and strike out for shore. Ignorance? I think not. You know what the other choice is...