Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Grew Up Guilty

I grew up guilty. It was not that I just felt guilty, I was guilty. In my little home town in South Carolina, there lived a whole community of black people with whom I seldom, if ever, had a conversation, shared a meal or knew much about the life they lived. But, in spite of attending a segregated school, a segregated church, and listening to talk about how important it was to keep things segregated, I knew. Deep down, I knew that the people on my side of town benefitted from the exploitation of those African Americans who lived on the other side of town. Few people ever talked about it but I knew. And to this day, I still carry the remnants of that guilt.

I grew up hearing that “they” were lazy, not as smart as white people, and always smelled bad. While I took baths in hot water, it never occurred to me that they did not have indoor plumbing and were forced to wash outside, even in winter. I seldom connected the dots that my privilege was connected to their suppression. Oh, there were some, a few, black people who “made it.” Johnny owned and operated a dry cleaning business and someone ran a little grocery store down by the school, but by and large, most black people were dependent upon the economic handout from the white community. But, there were times, when I would think about it, I had to confess, at least to myself, that I lived a privileged life simply because of the accident of birth. I even thanked God that I had not been born black.

My parents never told me that black people were inferior, but the entire system in which I lived said they were. I went to the new high school while they attended class in the old fire trap on the poor side of town. I wore clean clothes, washed by our black maid, while their shirts were wrinkled and often torn. I had no trouble in accepting things as they were and, along with all my friends, accepted it as something for which God was responsible. Yet, down deep. I knew better, and I felt guilty. I still do.

I feel sorry for Mitt Romney. There is going to come the day, when like George Wallace who, broken in heart and spirit, rolled down to the front of the African American church in Montgomery, Alabama and said, “I was wrong and I am sorry.” Mitt Romney is so caught up in doing anything he can right now to gain money and votes until anything goes to out-do Obama in proving his loyalty to Israel. He shows no concern for the illegal policies for Israel’s Zionist government, no matter how extreme. To heck with UN resolutions, international law and human decency. He spoke to a wealthy Jewish audience in Israel and according to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, said:

That Israel’s GDP per capita was $21,000 while that of the Palestinians was $10,000. Romney showed “a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality.” The actual figures are $31,400 for Israel and less than $3,000 for the Palestinians – but that is not because, as he said later, “culture makes all the difference,” but because of occupation, discrimination and oppression.(1)

Then to put icing on the cake, he declared Jerusalem to be the forever capital of Israel. He brags about his close personal friendship with Benyamin Netanyahu and totally ignores the plight of the Palestinian. Not unlike my days in high school, he just did not see across the hill to the poverty and squalor in which those living under Israel’s military rule are forced to live.

Maybe he really does not see. Maybe his understanding is distorted by the sheltered and privileged life he has always lived. The rules of life, including his economic success have been so rigged that he is blinded by his own advantage and wealth. Maybe he does not know that Israel’s economy is built upon handouts and theft. It may be years before he will allow himself to see what he has become a part of, whether he does or does not win this election next month.

But, I have to believe, the average Jew living in Israel knows, whether he will admit it or not. He knows that his country was started by confiscating the land and homes of more than 700,000 innocent people who were expelled from 78 percent of their historic Palestine, not unlike the land on which I live was taken from the Cherokee Indians. He knows when he is taking a hot shower, the water is diverted from the Palestinian West Bank. He also knows that the modern highway on which he rides was built by the cheap labor of those forced to work in Israel. He knows that his economy grew at an amazing rate because of the control on the production of Palestinian banks and production. He knows about the settlements, the wall, checkpoints and the uprooting of olive trees. He knows that his privilege is paid for by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are living in refugee camps. He knows. And deep within himself, he feels guilty. For that reason, he will not allow himself to engage in a conversation with, or even about, the plight of the Palestinians and will gladly sell his conscience to a shyster like Mitt Romney. He is trapped. To admit what he knows produces more guilt than he can handle and he knows it.

I once heard a Palestinian say, “I thank God that I was not born a Jew.” I immediately thought of that as anti-Semitic, and rejected him, But, the more I listened to him I realized that he had no dislike for the Jews. He earnestly felt compassion, even pity. The Jew, he declared, cannot enjoy his privilege because deep down he knows that it was stolen from another people and he will live with that guilt forever.

I understand. I still struggle with mine.

Thomas Are
September 20, 2012

[1]  John Lee, Romney on the Palestinians: It’s not the “Culture,” It’s the Occupation,  Washington Report in Middle East Affairs,  October 2012., p.16.

1 comment:

  1. It is said, "Confession is good for the soul." It loosens the shackles of denial and provides a progressive route toward healing. What Are's confession does for this soul--one whose life has been about running and jumping the hurdles of segregation, inequality, and oppression--is to acknowledge that something unjust actually happened. In doing so, the humanity of the oppressed is honored, the first step toward forgiveness and reconciliation.