Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Post 11/9 World

A Post 11/9 World
(Yes, you read that right)

A few months ago I gave up my seat on the bus, so that a young Muslim couple could sit next to each other. The man thanked me profusely. He smiled, and was incredibly grateful. I didn't think much of it at first, seeing as how this was just courtesy on my part. I'd given up my seat to elderly people, women, men, and couples before. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It wasn't until this morning that the gravity of that gesture came to me.

His wife wore a hijab, and he also wore traditional clothing. Both of them were African-American as well. I might be reading too deeply into this, but it's possible that few people had been that courteous to them.

I see that same man almost every day downtown—where he sells handmade soaps and essential oils from a street vendor's cart. I don't know how well he does, but I hope it's enough for both he and his wife to survive. Believe me, I know what it's like to be below poverty level. It feels like the cards are stacked against you in life, unless you have money. I think about that man from time to time, postulate that he much to contend with.

Race shouldn't be an obstacle, nor should one's faith. Unfortunately, the prejudice against these things are obstacles. Racism and intolerance are massive obstacles. In that case the fault doesn't lie with on for their skin color or religious beliefs. The fault lies with the ones who attack them for these things. It's that fear of the unknown again, and again, that comes back to haunt us. We fear what, and who, we do not understand. Yet, we are not born with these fears—they are learned from our environments. Just when I thought those environments were changing, they ceased development.

If this recent election has taught us anything, it's that we have a lot of fearful people out there. We also have a lot more progress to make.

Around the turn of the 20th century there was a massive influx of immigration. We've all seen the photos of Ellis Island, and people who fled poverty to start new lives, etc. Well, there's a dark side to that. Sometimes those immigrants were brought over as cheap labor. They were paid less than their American-born counterparts. They were also blamed for unemployment, as it was feared they take all their jobs away. Keep in mind that many of these immigrants came from Europe themselves. However, most of them didn't speak English, and had different customs to their American counterparts.

Boston, which we now associate as an Irish American stronghold wasn't always so accepting. Storefronts used to have signs in the windows that said, “No Irish or dogs allowed.” Things were no better on the west coast, where now-liberal California once had severe laws that limited how Chinese immigrants could conduct business. The reason so many of them opened laundries and restaurants was because those were among the few businesses they could legally operate. They didn't have identification cards, but they were subject to unfair laws all the same. Immigrants of all ethnicity could scarcely get an education as well. That's why many of them became laborers. The country will live in now with it's steel monuments like the Empire State Building, were built by these people. Think of that the next time you see pictures of massive steel skyscrapers and bridges.

The Irish fared a little better, as they'd set up a society in certain American cities. If you were Irish, and you knew someone in America, you could probably get a job. It would either be as a cop, a laborer, or priest (if you were already ordained). Or, if you weren't so lucky, you may have to bend the law, and go the gangster route. Keep in mind that there were few opportunities back then, especially for immigrants. Sometimes, you had to break the law to rise above the law. It was about survival, nothing more.

I speak of the Irish experience, because well, you know my name. I'm most familiar with this aspect of the immigrant experience, because my own great-grandparents experienced it. I wouldn't exist if they'd not come here. That being said, I might have Irish NHS insurance, a better public school education, and I may have graduated from university already. I might also be doing shots with Bono, so there's a bit of gave and take there. Though much like himself, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

All joking aside, I'm reminded of “Dagger” John Hughes, the Archbishop of New York. In 1844 he and his parishioners armed themselves, and fought off a contingent of Nativists, who sought to kick the Irish (who were mostly Catholic) out of New York. When he threatened the then pro-Nativist mayor by saying, “If one single Catholic church were burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow,” the mayor relented. In other words, he would have mobilized his flock, and rioted--just as Russians scorched Moscow before Napoleon's arrival.

Why am I using an example of white, Irish Catholics?
The point here is that racism isn't bound by ethnicity. It can be directed at anyone for any bullshit reason. Yes, I finally swore in my blog. Deal with it. Much like actual bullshit, the bogus reasons for racism and other forms of prejudice are fertilized with the excrement of faulty logic.

Example: Someone told me recently that they feared Syrian refugees would bring about sharia law in America. We already have separation of church and state. If having a Catholic as president in the 60's didn't turn the entire country Catholic, then how would a few more Syrians (who are being killed in their own homes by the way) make the country go Muslim? It wouldn't—anymore than a bunch of Protestant Swedes would make us all blonde. That wouldn't happen either, so stop dreaming. For that matter, we wouldn't all become Protestant either.

Ah, there's the rub! If it were an influx of white refugees, would that be better? Well the Irish came to this country en masse to avoid a famine in the late 19th century. So, perhaps not. Remember those signs in Boston? It seems as if history is repeating itself now. 

We live in a time now where the fear of the unknown is perhaps greater than before. Sadly, we also live in a time of great ignorance. People fear not only what they do not understand, they also fear what they do not know. In other words, they don't even know what they are afraid of! Except now it's not Protestants fearing Catholics, or vice versa. Instead, it's whites fearing non-whites. Aren't we over that by now? That goes back to Robert E. Lee, and those guys on the Smith Brother's Cough Drop box. That bullshit is also out of date. Not the cough drops though. They still make them!

Sadly, the struggle is not only real, it's still with us. It seems like when America takes a giant leap forward it takes a massive step back. It's as if America is testing the waters, and is afraid of getting in too deep. Once it does get in deep it'll have to face itself—that, my readers, is the ultimate terror—seeing ourselves in the mirror, and realizing we need a good grooming as a nation. The blemishes of America are not from without, but from within. We need a good scrub, and soon, or we may be sicker than we think.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

Author's Note: The sign above is real, and really disturbing, as is the want ad. 

No comments:

Post a Comment