Silence is the problem
By Rod Van Mechelen
"Silence like a cancer grows." - Paul Simon
1997 Bellevue, Wash. - Bigotry knows no boundaries, finds haven in every hue, resides within every race, and seethes like an infestation in the heart of both sexes.
Being an American Indian, I've experienced my share. Being a white man, I'm not supposed to say anything about it. Being both, I'll be damned before I'll be silent.
Yet silence is precisely what is expected of white men. "You're white, you're male, you're guilty. Make penance like a white man. Listen to the lies and agree they are true. Hear the hate, embrace it as your due."
On TV, a white female news anchor claims American white bread bigotry against blacks should be obvious given how blacks die younger than whites. She's half right. Black men die younger than whites. White men die younger than black women. White women live longer than all the rest.
A half-truth is all lie.
Last year, the daughter of a friend was accused of shop-lifting. The value of the item wasn't much, the act was a prank, the 11-year-old's friends dared her, the store's policy was to release youngsters into the custody of their parents. This time, however, the girl, who was black, was taken into detention by the local police. The store manager wanted to press charges. When my friend, her mother, complained of racial discrimination, the police pointed out the store manager was Korean-American. As if only whites are capable of anti-black bigotry. But bigotry knows no boundaries.
Two summers ago a Korean-American came to work. He spoke condescendingly of how he was on hiatus from Law School, how little we all knew, how incompetent we all were, and how condescending we all acted toward him. He spoke thus to women and men, African-Americans, Euro-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, anyone not Korean-American. Not all Korean-Americans are bigots, but some are.
He tried his act on me. It worked the first time. Like pop feminists, he had to learn the hard way that what works with me once, seldom works twice. The next time he tried it, I called his bluff. "That's very condescending of you," I said, "talking about how inferior I am, how superior you are, you ought to be ashamed." He didn't try it again. And when I caught him doing it to my team-mates, I did it again. And again, until, soon, he left them alone, too.
Let someone get away with something, they will keep on doing it. Speak up, point it out, tell them it's not okay, most times they will take heed. Unless you're the only one. When the wolf stalks the sheep, it takes more than a single ram to deter the howling pack. Same thing with bigotry and every other form of oppression. If just one or a few cry out in protest, their voices will be smothered by the sound of silence.
Decades ago, Simon and Garfunkel sang that "silence like a cancer grows." If we refrain from speaking up when we witness wrong doing, we make ourselves a party to the deed, and we share their shame.
The German Sorrow
Like the otherwise decent Germans who said nothing, opposed nothing Hitler and his brown coated wolves did until it was too late. Then came the German sorrow.
How deep will our sorrow be, how drawn out our penance, if we do not expose and oppose bigotry and bad behavior in every form, from every source? Will America be torn by war between African-Americans, Korean-Americans, and Jewish-Americans? Will American Indians side with Mexican-Americans against Euro-Americans? Will Cajuns call out to their linguistic kin in Quebec for aid against the English-speaking majority? Will paranoid militia members come rampaging out of their bunkers brandishing obsolete weapons that will do more harm to the citizenry than to the well-armed, technologically advanced US Army? Will the pop feminists puff with pride as they mobilize women against men, sister against brother, daughter against father?
A friend prepares to emigrate to Ireland. Despite the feud between England and the IRA, the Protestants and the Catholics, he points out violence in America is far worse, and he foresees a time when the American Constitution, already bending beneath the strain of too many articles, amendments and clauses ignored, will break. "In Ireland," he says, "things we would consider unconstitutional are matters of law, and for conditions to worsen requires considerable political debate." Unlike here, where laws are broken by Federal fiat, expensive lawyers, prejudiced judges, politically correct programs, deep corporate pockets and uneven enforcement.
American Union at Risk
We are like a herd of sheep who graze peacefully while the wolves pick away at the fringe of the flock. Here, one bleats out a warning, only to be shushed, trampled by those who fear that to identify a threat is a threat, or taken out by the wolves. Keep quiet, keep your head down, ignore the wolves, and maybe they won't bother you. Better yet, maybe they'll just go away (after they eat that noisy black sheep over there).
Korean-Americans are not the enemy. African-Americans are not the enemy. Euro-Americans are not. Jewish-Americans are not. Neither are American Indians nor any other race. Silence is the enemy. Silence is the cancer, and the cancer grows.
Who will raise their voice? Who will join the black sheep bleating out a warning? Who will be silent no longer? And what should they say? What should they do?
All Equal Before the Law
For every angry voice, there must be a reasoned whisper. For every sword, a flag of truce. For every clenched fist, the open hand. Wage war against the cancer all anger and spit, you'll kill the patient with a chemotherapy worse than the disease. Gird yourself for battle with self-respect and dignity. Arm yourself with objectivity. Always be fair, just and determined to do right, and you'll not often go wrong.
The goal: same basic rights, same basic responsibilities, same basic respect for every citizen. For non citizens, respect and the rights we accord them under law.
Why? Because, though we begin as individuals, we survive as members of the community and society at large. Pitting factions against one another is societal suicide. We depend on one another for our existence. In the end, there cannot be only one.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.