Like most people I know I’ve spent the last week in ponderance about human on human violence, and specifically the use of firearms in these events. You do even a little research on the Google machine and it gets pretty discouraging pretty fast. The numbers are all over the place, as is the rhetoric. Our questions boil down to why? Why would that person/group take that action against that other person/group? Three little letters and a squiggly mark that beg so much information we may never receive.
In our efforts to make sense of un-sense, most of us try to label or pigeonhole things into chewable explanations. We attribute violent actions to mental illness; religious ideology; racism; sexism; homophobia; poverty. I’m no scholar but it seems to me each of these (or any combination thereof) possible factors trace back to another small word: Fear. Four likewise small letters that can be the tidal wave of force behind any creature’s action or reaction. But fear of what exactly? And I think that’s the easiest of the questions we’ve been asking. I believe it all comes back to the fear of difference. Fear of a person/people/culture/behavior that differs from that with which we are comfortable. It’s kind of a theme with us Americans, really, and it goes way back. We’ve been setting up fences between one another for just about as long as we’ve been squatters on this continent. For a load of people who came here from somewhere else because we wanted a fair shake and to be treated without prejudice, we sure dole out what we can’t take. Some highlights:
(Being Irish, this is one of my personal favorites.)
(Oh. I’m also German.)
(And Native American.)
(But my hodgepodge ancestry is just a tiny example of the isolated.)
I hope you see my point. Regardless of our professed lofty ideals, I fear we are not The New Colossus our forefathers strove to be. In fact, our assorted cultures have been turning away from one another–dare I say trying to deny one another?–for too many generations to count. And why? Because we look different from one another, or pray different, or sound different or smell different. Because someone doesn’t like what the other wants to do with their own body? Because one government was involved in a war on another continent and any person of that biology must be equally reprehensible? We need only look back a handful of decades to see the disaster of that mindset.
It’s honestly quite surprising that we’ve set aside our fears long enough to get together and populate this country so thoroughly. I suppose that can only be attributed to utopic communities where people take the time to work through or see passed that which frightens. Couples and families of mixed race/religion/politics exist all over the U.S. That is what still makes this nation a dream to many outside our borders. But I worry. If we continue to focus on building fences and turning away, how long until the isolationism of the past becomes so prevalent no one finds us a beacon? How long until it’s the last century all over again?
I have no answers, other than to adjust my sloppy habits of easy prejudice. To do so I may need to read and re-read Ms. Lazarus’s poem on a daily basis until it soaks in and I, too, can be a mighty woman. Hodgepodge ancestry and all.