Seeing the Other as real
by Tom Sullivan
Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust played on the local NPR station recently. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the program looks at "racism, antisemitism, and the ways in which hatred can grow." I tuned in late and heard a German woman confronting Klansmen. It led me to this 2014 clip from the BBC:
Mo Asumang is a German filmmaker who confronts racism by speaking directly to those who want her excluded from their world. They don't talk to or know their "so-called enemy," Asumang says, "so what they do when they talk to me, they talk to reality, and that's the first thing they have to survive."
Asumang concedes that her tactics for confronting hatred so directly are not for everyone. But she is inspired by the incredible change she witnessed in her own family, when her grandmother—a former Nazi party member, who worked for the SS—came face to face with a black grandchild.
My mother, she told me when she told my grandmother there's a baby going to be born and the baby's going to be black, that my grandmother said she wanted to jump in front of the tram and kill herself. But then when she saw me, even though she was at the SS, when she saw me, there was an emotional moment, and this emotional moment was human. There was a baby, and she was a woman. She felt like a mother. So she took care of me. So I think, through this in my personal history, I am really very, very sure that every person, even if the person has been to the SS, can change, but we have to bring it to a personal level.
It struck me how, as Asumang suggests, keeping the Other at a distance, maintaining the caricature, is essential to "keeping the faith," as it were. Nazis, Klansman, antisemites, various brands of religious fundamentalists, have nice, neat, black-and-white categories for the world that insulate them from opposing ideas, contradictions, and people unlike themselves. Dealing with real people makes them very uneasy. It is "out of fear," she suggests to a robed Klansman.
"No, it’s not out of fear," he insists. Fear is for the weak.
In evangelical circles, mingling to temptation, to corruption. It's threatening:
2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV)
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
Because the devil is gonna steal your faith if you let him get too close. (Remember the God Warrior?)
Professor David Pilgrim of the Jim Crow Museum in Michigan explains his interest:
As corny and trite as it sounds, I think that antisemitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia…I think those things undermine democracy. I think they make of democracy a lie. I mean as long as we have these "us versus thems," and as long as people are hurt in our society and others think that's their problem, then we undermine this nation. So the trick is, is to figure out a way to get people that are not themselves directly hurt to believe that they are a part of the same "We." And that for me has been the thrust of what it is I've spent my life trying to do; trying to make the "We" bigger.
The New York Times editorial board this morning examines renewed efforts to keep the wrong people from voting after the Supreme Court struck down the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act — efforts disguised as something loftier and more star-spangled. As sure as Benghazi, in 2016 we are sure to see more allegations of widespread fraud and more efforts to block participation by nameless, faceless "those people."