I’ve noticed a disturbing trend relating to feedback on my Musings. Last week offered one example. A reader wrote to my husband, commenting, “Had Trayvon been your son would your wife had been so inhumane about the matter? I think Susan is very cruel, I would like to hear your comment when it is your child’s turn.”
What was my alleged cruelty? I wrote in last week’s Musing that after a holiday week, “I am having a hard time getting back to everyday life.” I said that the break had made it difficult for me to “order my brain to deal with anything substantive in time to write this Musing.” As examples of noteworthy issues which I was not able to address, I wrote, “Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman; Obama and Romney; even Iran and nuclear armament recede into the background.”
While the writer didn’t use the word racism in her email, I think it fair to assume that it is the elephant in the room. Exactly what pained her so much? Unfortunately, there are frequent tragic occurrences in the world and I don’t think she is making the suggestion that it is cruel to do anything other than be immobilized by suffering. Or was she suggesting that a nuclear Iran and the upcoming presidential election are light-hearted subjects and as such my sentence suggested a frivolous attitude towards Trayvon’s death? Unfortunately, she didn’t elaborate on her accusation.
I have received similar negative feedback every time a Black person is mentioned in my blog. It doesn’t matter what the context; someone directly or indirectly accuses me of insensitivity or racism. No one as of yet has left their remarks as a comment. They send their thoughts to me through my business email or, as in this case, to my husband. The result is that the writer vents without opening the potential for a public conversation.
Since we don’t ask people to provide detailed information before signing up for Thought Tools (the source of the overwhelming majority of Musing readers) or accessing my Musing, I have no way of knowing how many weekly readers fit into various racial, gender, ethnic or income groupings. Judging from the people I meet at events, I think it’s reasonable to assume that there is a relatively diverse spread in all those categories.
Racism, like anti-Semitism, is a charge which is easy to hurl, difficult to substantiate and impossible to refute. Aside from easy to recognize, egregious examples, I believe that both racism and anti-Semitism often exist more in the mind of the individual who feels victimized rather than in objective reality. Years ago, my husband and I, along with an out of town guest, strolled through our neighborhood. We spent some time on a curvy road which lacked sidewalks. As we rounded one bend, a passing driver tooted his horn. To our astonishment, our guest immediately muttered, “Anti-Semite!” It is true that both my husband and our guest were wearing yarmulkas (religious head coverings) which identified them as Jewish. My husband and I took the beeping as a friendly gesture of warning that a car was going to be passing us on a shared road. Our visitor took it as a hostile gesture. There is no way of knowing what the driver’s actual motivation was, so our differing reactions revealed more about our own ways of thinking than anything else.
I recently read a letter to an advice columnist where a young woman expressed her hurt and resentment towards her mother-in-law, giving a few examples of the painful situations she endured. Like the columnist, I felt sorry for her. Not because her stories proved that she had an awful mother-in-law, but because she was locked into a world view in which she saw herself as maltreated. Rather than giving the benefit of the doubt to her husband’s mother or recognizing that two women from different backgrounds thrust into intimacy don’t necessarily share communication styles, she saw every interaction through a jaundiced prism. Likewise, I found that response to last week’s Musing tremendously sad. It spoke to me of a woman who lives in a world full of offense and antagonism rather than one of good will.
Both the American Jewish and African-American worlds are conspicuously led by spokesmen who earn high salaries from organizations whose existence depends on their respective groups being hated. Politicians and irresponsible (or true believer) journalists likewise manipulate the truth for their own purposes. While ostensibly decrying prejudice, they often encourage people to bask in victimhood, to the detriment of all.
I thought of ignoring what, after all, was one email. But on the principle that what one person writes reflects the thoughts of others, I chose to respond in this way. If this Musing provokes negative reaction, I hope it will be submitted as a comment so that it can be posted for all to see. I would look forward to comments whose goals are not to accuse or to insult, but instead to provide perspective. That is the only way that a conversation can ensue which can encourage us all to expand our horizons and step into one another’s shoes.