I have a problem from Baltimore
I have a problem with what’s going on in Baltimore. Because it’s important. The militarization of police is a problem, and I fear it when a culture teaches one demographic (defined by career, economic status, skin color, etc) that another group is “The Enemy”. Cops and minorities, citizens and immigrants, religion A and religion B, it’s all a disservice to our shared humanity to blame and oversimplify Them.
What’s going on in Baltimore is important. The current tacit, pernicious, and entrenched racism in America is among our greatest challenges. Racism has changed. It is no longer led by chanting bigots and hate mongers, racism here is driven by the apathetic holders of power. We all know the KKK are lunatics, the problem now is the privileged class who says “Racism is bad. Someone should do something about that…” and goes back to sleep. And I know I am part of that problem. What have I done to end racism lately? Hold my opinions, over here in the safe zone? But what can I do?
The nature of protest is a serious issue, in a country that ostensibly still thinks it’s a democracy, though the reigns of power were purchased long ago. What do I do with the principle, near and dear, that the best way forward is through peace, yet marches and petitions seem as efficacious as farts against fortifications. Does nonviolence only work with the implicit threat of violence as a consequence of inaction? That is, what would MLK have achieved without Malcolm X? And what does it mean to cling to nonviolence when the sinister side of the police has left that ethos behind? Should conscientious souls be nonviolent while government funds buy pepper spray, civil servants “serve and protect” in military assault vehicles, and officially sanctioned batons break the bones of whoever they please? And that’s not even touching the violence of a social order based on criminalization of a generation.
What’s going on in this country is important. But it gives me a problem. Because how am I to feel about systemic injustice…when faced with the suffering in Nepal? How can I pay mindful attention to the problems in my little America when I have a sliver of understanding of the unutterable horrors rampaging over there?
One of the incomprehensible gifts this life has given me is the possibility to travel. Travel destroys ethnocentricity. One cannot go abroad very far and still care what a Kardashian said. Go to Colombia, and “news” is not Shakira’s baby, it’s more bloodshed in a 50 year old conflict, despite steady progress.
Go to Turkey, realize Islam is as beautiful a religion as any on Earth, then shake your head that a government would ever deny genocide, even after 100 years. Shake it again when you realize the US is following suit, driven by geopolitics.
Go to Israel and when you’re forced to think of everyone as equally human, you will know there is absolutely nothing Anti-Semitic about criticizing a regime that drives a population into extreme poverty and suffering, then bombs their schools and shelters.
Obviously, one does not need to travel to have compassion, I would never mean to assert otherwise. But (at least for me) images of death and destruction are more intense and tangible after experiencing the magnificent physical heritage of the past and the incredible human heritage of the present. It’s not some remote Them when your thoughts are on the friend who tied the sacred threads around your wrist on janai purnima, making you brothers. It’s not just a story about strangers when you’ve lost touch with him over the years, and can only wonder about his fate.
Over lunch yesterday a friend said “The more I travel, the less I care about America’s version of the news.” This is easy with the normal idiocy of CNN, celebrities and sensationalism (101 stories on their homepage right now, 5 of which seem like news to me, Nepal is 100th, preceding only “What is Bitcoin?”), but what about America’s legitimate issues? How do I properly care about the problems of the relatively privileged? I don’t know. I just hope my heart and mind can encompass both.