Talk to Me in St. Louis

My husband and I passed through St. Louis twice last week. We interacted with supermarket clerks, airport personnel, rental car employees and assorted people waiting on line with or sitting near us. A fair number of those people were African American. To a person, they were helpful and cheerful.

The question I wanted to ask was, “What do you think of the Ferguson riots?” that took place within a few miles of that very airport. I couldn’t think of a way to ask the question graciously in a few fleeting moments. I also doubted that an unknown stranger should expect an honest and thoughtful response.

Yet, here is my guess. I think that the hard-working people we met had not spent the previous night rioting. I think that Al Sharpton and associates embarrass them and that their sympathies are with storeowners who saw years of work destroyed rather than with looting thugs. The employees we met may very well resent having been stopped by overly aggressive police on occasion and if that hasn’t happened to them, they probably know others to whom it has. They probably have encountered unpleasantness based on their race. Yet, could it be that while they don’t think racism is dead, they might think that incidents like Ferguson increase rather than decrease their being viewed suspiciously? Could they be worried that the rioters, media and governmental response are going to make their lives worse, not better?

Why do I suspect this? Since I have no first-hand experience of racism, I can only look at the situation through the prism I do have. I know that the majority of Israelis long to live in peace with their Moslem neighbors. Polls show that 68% of Israeli Arabs oppose the recent wave of terror attacks and 77% would choose to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule, given the choice. Most of these same people do not feel that they are treated fairly and harbor mistrust for the Israeli government. Still, they want things to improve not to get worse.

When a long-time Arab worker attacks Jews in Israel with gun or dagger, his fellow peace-desiring Arabs lose jobs, are viewed with more hostility and are treated less well. Could we expect anything different? When one Arab boards a bus and detonates a bomb is it possible not to sympathize with the bus driver who doesn’t halt for an Arab at the next bus stop? The rules may say that he must stop, but people’s emotions have to change before rules matter.

In a less dramatic example, a Jewish woman recently made a scene when she found a swastika shape in wrapping paper put out in Walgreens for the Chanuka holiday. The swastika was not readily apparent. When I looked at a photo, I had to read instructions for spotting it before I could see it. Now, the Holocaust and Nazi Germany bring forth, and should bring forth, great emotion. I do not know this woman’s history and she may well have been psychologically impacted by having survivor parents or grandparents. Nevertheless, her isolated severe, and probably completely unfair, attack made the headlines and caused Walgreens to withdraw the paper. My response is sadness and embarrassment. It does me no good for others to hesitate to do business in Jewish neighborhoods for fear of inadvertently offending anyone. It does none of us any good when every email, remark, look and action needs to undergo censoring lest someone gets offended.

There is real anti-Semitism growing rapidly in the world. It was even loudly proclaimed among the heavily white and incredibly foolish marchers in Seattle who claimed to be protesting Ferguson. There are real racial discrepancies and problems that face the African- American community. There are real concerns about abuses in police departments and federal SWAT teams. Yet, bludgeoning others with cries of racism and anti-Semitism through false and misleading reporting, “gotcha” attitudes and hysteria leads to more problems rather than to solutions.

A small number of people, whether known as mobs, criminals or terrorists have always been able to destroy the work of the majority of decent people. Right now with the administration, universities and most media egging on bullying forces, we are in great danger of this nation splintering apart, and of hatred and divisiveness increasing as gender, race and religion are used as battering rams rather than celebrated as parts of the amazing complexity of humanity.

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5 thoughts on “Talk to Me in St. Louis”

  1. Lora, I have also found myself trying – not always successfully, but I’m getting better – to not go with an instinctive reaction but to think before I speak. I think partially this is a function of maturity and one reason that the voting age used to be 21 rather than 18. I know all the reasons for making it lower, but the fact is that we do, hopefully, have more perspective as we get older.

  2. This was a great post. I always bring something of great value from your writing.
    I recently had someone compliment me that they have observed me over the years start to react strongly to an issue, and then step back and think it through/feel it through more carefully. I can only say that I learned this ability to think twice from my sister.
    In contrast, there are times when we must stand our ground rather than reword or rethink what our spirit cries out to us to be true. Your post has brought that contrast into clearer focus for me, and I will be looking my life and perspective over more carefully as I try and find the best balance for myself in my relationship to the Creator of truth, life, and love.

  3. Lori and James, I very much appreciate your comments. I assume that there are readers who will disagree with me. That’s part of the reason I decided to write this. If we become afraid of speaking to each other and only talk to like-minded people, we cannot solve problems. I assume good faith on the part of my readers and I hope they assume good faith on my part.

  4. While I read your musings almost every post, I do not always comment and I wanted to take the time this week to thank you for your thoughtful and wise words.

  5. WOW, Ms. Susan, WOW. This was just about the best Musing you have ever written, at least that I have read, and you have written many a powerful Musing. It is also a great sequel to your last week’s Musing on Anger. Congratulations!
    One ominous point: in my metro city there were also demonstrations in ‘commemoration’ of Ferguson. I was not there, however in one news report a ‘woman of color’ came on the air as an eyewitness. In her statement she revealed that those demonstrators most vocal and causing the most trouble were wearing face masks and were not in fact ‘people of color.’
    At the beginning of the 1900’s a renowned black scientist and inventor came forward and said that the US (even by then) had made great progress in resolving the ‘race question.’ But he also predicted that the race question would never be resolved as long as agitators persist in stirring up the hornets’ nests of pain, outrage and memories of historical injustice. In freezing his black brothers and sisters in a posture of eternal victimhood, Rev. Sharpton in effect is embalming them in a coffin of moral and social decay.
    Unfortunately anyone who has corroded, rusted shut and frozen into the posture of ‘victim’ is destined for the same coffin, and I suppose that includes those who see blasphemy in Nike shoe logos, or those who see swastikas where there are no swastikas. But your conclusion is correct: much of this adding fuel to the flames is by design, and it is quite appropriate to ask oneself: WHO profits from all this? The answers are always disturbing.

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