Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the Turning Away

A nice essay I found here and republished below.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand
Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others' suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away 

-- Pink Floyd

The people that each of us are comes as a result of so many different influences. There are literally thousands of things that occur in our lifetimes that define the type of person that we ultimately become and if you’re really lucky, you will continue to evolve and grow until the day that you take your last breath. Some things stand out however and lately the events of the world have me thinking about a very small incident over 40 years ago that made a big impression on me. It was Father’s Day and my family was at my grandfather’s house. He lived in a small working class industrial city that had seen better days, even back then.

It was hot and we were all in the backyard. My sisters and a couple of my cousins were splashing around in a wading pool and I was sitting at a picnic table with my dad, my uncle and my grandfather, who, at the time, wasn’t much older than I am now. (That’s a frightening thought that didn’t hit me until I started writing this.) We were listening to the Mets-Phillies game on the radio. I was a Yankee fan, but they were out in Oakland and didn’t play until 4 o’clock so I sucked it up and listened to the Mets. The adults were engaged in “grown-up talk” and I felt cool because I got to sit there and listen. Kind of out of the blue, my uncle commented to my grandfather that he should consider selling his house and moving out because “the blacks were taking over the neighborhood”.

Now I very rarely saw him get mad, but I could tell that my grandfather was pissed. He looked at my uncle and said, “You know, 30 years ago when I bought this house the people who lived on this block started selling their houses and moving out. They said the damn guineas are taking over the neighborhood. If I did the same thing now I wouldn’t be any better than those bastards.” He went on to explain that he liked the house, it was where he raised his kids, it was paid for, he could walk to work and my grandmother could walk to the supermarket. He added that he could walk three blocks to Main Street and catch a bus or a train to anywhere he wanted to go and it was a real nice street with lots of trees. He leaned across the table towards my uncle and said, “those people moving in here, they like living here for the same reasons I do.” In retrospect, I think it was even more remarkable for him to feel this way only two or three years after riots had torn apart so many American cities and racial tensions were still very high. I don’t remember the subject ever coming up again.

My grandfather never went to college. He never graduated high school. He worked from the time he was 15 until the day he died of a heart attack while he was at his job, still doing physical labor in his early 60’s. For all of his lack of a formal education, he was a very smart man with a sophisticated view of the world. I never really appreciated a lot of the stuff that he said to me until I was older and he was gone, but that day really stuck with me. As a kid you hear that and you say yeah, that makes sense. As an adult you realize that here was a guy who had felt the sting of prejudice and came to the conclusion that it ended with him. That rather than extend the cycle by turning on some other ethnic or racial group, he chose not to look at the world that way.

My sisters and I were thankfully raised in a very tolerant household. I had initially thought my dad’s attitudes came from growing up in a very integrated community and attending school and playing sports with all kinds of people. I’m sure that had a part in it but as I got older I realized that my grandfather set the tone while raising my dad. I hope that my wife and I have perpetuated this cycle in how we are raising our children. Actually, as I listen to the things that my kids say about a lot of different issues, I’m pretty sure that they will make good adults.

I felt compelled to write this today because I feel that we are at something of a crossroads in America. I have a vague uneasy feeling that we are engaged in some kind of end game strategy. There are people who wish to take advantage of our country’s economic conditions; to step in and take full and final control of the nation’s wealth and society for the benefit of a very small elite faction. The main tool that is being used is division. Creating the perception that the least among us are stealing from the rest of society and that they are the reason for our economic problems. It’s the poor. It’s the immigrants. It’s the union workers who get a better deal than you. It’s those damn teachers who are living on Easy Street. Never mind the ½ of 1% who earn as much as the bottom 50% of America. Never mind the Wall Street bankers who are back to earning record bonuses and complain about how difficult life is in this country for them. No, they are smart and deserve everything that they have. Amazingly, they earned every penny on their own with no help and no support from our societal structure.

Meanwhile our public education system is being set up to be dismantled, which will leave quality education as the province of the rich. NPR, where relatively unbiased information is disseminated, is set up for the chopping block. Unions, with their ability to level the playing field and promote basic benefits that allow working people to live decently, are demonized as parasites on society. Access to health care for everyone, a concept for turning America into a socialist county! Good health care is for those who can afford it. Invest in infrastructure? We just don't have the money for that. What we really need are tax cuts for the rich! The best part is that average working class people have been convinced through the use of “hatred of the other” to be the conduit for this takeover to be effected.

On one hand, this is downright depressing. I can just see us hurtling towards the abyss. One group turned against the other. Using the strategy of division to win the day. On the other hand, if a guy with a 10th grade education could figure out that hate and division was a dead end, maybe there is hope for us yet. I just don’t know.

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It's not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there'll be
No more turning away?

1 comment:

James Brush said...

Yes. Would that we all had such wise family members.