I attended college with an Iraqi named Ibrahim who was a couple of years older than I was. He had a metal plate in his head from injuries sustained in the Iran-Iraq War. He was a friendly guy whose name was easy to remember because he resembled American president Abraham Lincoln.
Seriously. Summon an image of Abraham Lincoln’s head in your mind’s eye. Remove the stovepipe hat. That was Ibrahim.
When the United States went to war with Iraq, my first thought was of Ibrahim. Someone wiser than I am said it’s difficult to hate anyone up close. I’m sure Ibrahim wouldn’t like knowing he is the only person I associate with Iraq; it wasn’t his job to be his country’s representative to a few wild-eyed Southern boys. But, because of Ibrahim, I never fell for the jingoistic national fever that had Americans glued to their television sets to watch bunker bombs kill a whole lot of people we didn’t know and then celebrate the W.
I never hated Iraq or Iraqis. I still don’t. If everything they said about Hussein was true, I’m all right with what happened to him. But, not your everyday garden variety Iraqi.
My personal experience tells me that the majority of people in the world suffer for the decisions made by a vocal minority in power. I’m not excluding the United States of America from this blanket statement. That doesn’t make me unpatriotic, just discerning.
I don’t always demonstrate good judgment. I am this time, though.
I’m tired of being told which groups I should hate. You can’t turn on the television, listen to a podcast, or look at social media without someone telling you who you should hate. Then, there are the real human voices that you surround yourself with, people you know or work with, or are related to, and they all seem to have their own hate agenda as well.
I guess I’m not much of a joiner. I avoid large groups of people who tend to dress alike and shout slogans. When I worked for Target, the prescribed dress code was red shirts (usually polo-type shirts, but not always), and khaki pants. At work, this didn’t bother me. But, if we were off-site, at some teambuilding event, I preferred to wear my civilian attire if that was an option. We used to have annual sales rallies, when Target employees (known as “team members”) were bused in from all across the district to all dress alike and shout slogans. Even the word “rally” has Nazi overtones, doesn’t it?
I consider myself to be a native Southerner. I was born and raised in the American South. I made brief stopovers, as a very young child, in Virginia and Puerto Rico, but spent the lion’s share of my first twenty-one years in South Carolina. I didn’t move very far from home base after that. North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
I used to tell people that I tried to live only in states that had schools in the SEC (Southeastern Conference), which—for those of you who may not know—is a huge collegiate athletic conference with arguably the best football programs in the US. This was just a facile icebreaking joke, however, and not true at all. The University of South Carolina, my alma mater, didn’t join the SEC until years after I graduated. In fact, after I moved out of state. As far as I know, Virginia doesn’t have a school in the SEC. And, I could care less about college football, to tell the truth. When I was a college student, I spent more time partying in the parking lot than in the stadium. Plus, I never won any significant money playing the parlay cards.
Because I was a Gamecock, I was supposed to hate the Clemson Tigers, who were our chief rivals. And, I did hate them. Not while I was in college, but many years before, when my circle of friends in grammar school, junior high, and high school seemed to be made up, primarily, of kids who identified as Gamecocks, perhaps because their parents were alumni, or, like me, they wanted to belong to something. I knew kids whose team of choice was Clemson, but none of them were directly in my circle of friends. My friends and I hated Clemson University, with a passion that was disproportionate to our knowledge of either university.
One way that a group of like-minded people perpetuates division from a group it considers to be “the enemy” is to make mean-spirited jokes about the other side.
Here’s just one. Directions to Clemson University: Head west until you smell it, and then south until you step in it.
Pretty mean, huh? There were others, all similarly themed, comparing Clemson’s cheerleaders to cows, or suggesting that all Clemson students were farmers, morons, or both.
I don’t hate Clemson University. I mean, at all. It’s a fine school. I visited the campus once on a school field trip during the 1970s, and I enjoyed the day there. There were pretty girls in bikinis lying on blankets in the grass, soaking up the sun, who were not bovine at all.
If you’ve ever read my posts before today, you’ll know that I often seem to be struggling to make a definite point. I like to give my thoughts free rein at times, just to see where they wander and if that place is more interesting than where I’m currently located.
Portions of this post have sat in a computer file titled “Culture of Hate” for a long time. Since mid-December 2020, in fact. I had temporarily been side-tracked by all of the hate-speak that comes through, loud and clear, via all forms of media. This led me—as way tends to lead to way—to ruminations about all of the things we use to divide us into groups. Rather than things that could unite us.
Instead of focusing just on a nameless, faceless, generic human being, I began to wonder about the one person I know better than any other—that would be me, myself and I—even though I largely remain a mystery even to myself.
We are all being programmed, from the moment of birth. Sometimes by others. Usually by others, in fact. But, sometimes by ourselves and the decisions we make about ourselves.
My parents identified as Christians, even if they weren’t consistently practicing ones. Therefore, I was a Christian. At least, culturally. It would be many years before I knew anyone who was Jewish or Muslim or Hindu. Or, insert any of the myriad religions practiced in the world here. My friends, when I was growing up, were all Christian as well.
But, it’s not enough to be separated into one large group. We had to divide that group as well. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mormons, Pentecostals, Catholics . . . and so on. There seems to be an innate human drive to find things to separate ourselves from other people.
I had problems with this, even at a young age. I remember some adult—maybe even a close relative—explaining to me that heathen Chinese children were all going to Hell if they didn’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Having a child’s decidedly black-and-white concept of fairness, I thought that this was extremely unfair. If my parents were Chinese and didn’t tell me Bible stories that, frankly, were less interesting than the stories about the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, would that mean I was doomed to spend eternity in Hell as well? That didn’t seem right. In this day and age, I was told, everyone in the world has heard about Jesus Christ. There were missionaries and other well-intentioned people spreading the gospel. There were satellites and television signals being beamed all over the world. If a Chinese child didn’t decide to become a Christian, that was on them.
I had read a lot of mythology by that point (the religion of other people is always called “mythology”). What if those cold-weather folk who practiced the Norse religion had it right? Was I doomed to eternal suffering because I thought Thor was little more than a second-tier Marvel superhero?
Of course, at the time, I was still trying to figure out how Santa Claus fit into the whole God-and-Jesus thing. It was a head-scratcher.
It wasn’t just religion that served to separate us. There was race, sexuality, school affiliations (as I mentioned earlier), music preferences, favorite comic books (from junior high on you were either Marvel or DC, at least within the circles I traveled), favorite sports (and within this category, favorite teams), and so on. As you drilled down, it became more about subsets of subsets. Sure, you prefer DC Comics, but was your favorite DC hero Superman or Batman? No one chose Aquaman in those days.
It worked in the opposite direction as well. On the macro level. Sure, South Carolina was much better than North Carolina, but at least we were all Southerners. Yankees weren’t to be trusted. We were taught that at a young age. Just as many Northerners I’ve known over the years have a preconceived notion that Southerners are slow-witted and unmotivated. Then there’s the East Coast/West Coast thing.
But, at least we’re all Americans, right? Citizens of the United States of America, which we’ve always been told was the greatest country in the world. Sure, Canada and Mexico share the North American continent with us, so even using the term “American” seems a little wrong.
That gets us into the language barrier that sometimes separates us. French and Spanish were spoken in North America—including what became the USA—long before English was, but everyone should speak English, right? Because it’s the best language in the world. But, at least French-Canadians and Spanish-speaking individuals from the Americas (okay, throw in some Portuguese, Wayuu, and Sranan Tongo for good measure) aren’t speaking Mandarin or Farsi. Except for those people who do.
The point I’m attempting to make—rather badly—is that this all seems pointless to me. If I’ve gained any wisdom in age (debatable), it’s that I should reject everything I’ve been told since birth and form my own opinions about people, ideologies and all the categories we use to separate us. Then, I should reject my opinions as well, because they are also suspect.
Everyday, I get to listen to people tell me why I shouldn’t like another group of people. Being forced to wear a mask is a violation of my personal freedoms. Vaccinations are as well. The US Postal Service is superior to UPS and Federal Express. Republicans are better than Democrats. Muslims are all potential terrorists. The Chinese infected the world with COVID-19. White people are racist simply because they are white.
There is an endless litany of reasons we should all hate each other. But, I can think of only one reason why we shouldn’t.
None of the things that make us think we are different from one another are important.
Not one of them.