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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

I was eight years old, curled up on the naugahyde sofa in my grandmother’s basement, when I found my great-grandmother’s copy of Gone with the Wind, the commemorative movie edition.   I read it literally to pieces and I can recite the entire first paragraph by heart.

gone with the wind cover

In grade school I was taught that the Civil War, to my surprise at the time, was NOT inspired primarily by the desire to continue to enslave African-Americans, but by an argument over States’ Rights.

My great-great-great-grandfather was a Confederate brigadier general, and I was raised on family legends of his valor.

Col. James Hagan

My ggggrandfather Confederate General James D. Hagan, who was born in Ireland.

Up until my house burned down, I owned a small Confederate battle flag, which at one time I displayed along with the flags of the United States, Scotland, and Ireland, a small tribute to my ethnic heritage as I understood it at the time.

This is where I come from.  I am proud to be a Southerner.  In my blog bio, I describe myself first of all as “Catholic and Southern.”  That’s at the core of who I am.

Like many Southerners, particularly those with ancestors who served in the Confederate army, I feel an attachment to statues like the one in Charlottesville.  But the character of those who rallied on Saturday in protest prove that its removal is necessary.  This confederacy of dunces would have been denounced by General Lee, who was not even in favor of secession, and by James Hagan, who was repatriated and worked for the U.S. government for the fifteen years prior to his death.

Emily on the General's Grave

My oldest child, Emily, at the grave of her great-great-great-great-grandfather, General James D. Hagan

 

As his descendant, I disavow and repudiate the Unite the Right protesters and anyone who shares their hateful beliefs in the strongest of terms, and I call upon all descendants of Confederate soldiers to join me in condemning them.  They don’t represent the South and we don’t need these modern-day Carpetbaggers to tell us how best to preserve our heritage.

We do no honor to the memory of the Confederate dead by supporting disgusting displays of racism.  I do not judge my ancestors as harshly as some might– they were the product of a different time.  But that time is long past.  If you feel that Robert E. Lee deserves to be honored and remembered for valiantly fighting for what he believed in–his home state of Virginia–then do what he asked after the fighting ended: “Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring [your children] up to be Americans.

 

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Like everyone, I was horrified by the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, for which the Islamic State is claiming responsibility.

When things like this happen, the Internet predictably divides itself into camps.  I’m part of the camp that doesn’t want to see innocent Muslims demonized and discriminated against because of the actions of a minority of violent people who claim to honor the same prophet.

So because I do tend to engage in politics on Facebook, I posted this response by a prominent American Muslim:

When the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in a black family’s yard, prominent Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts. Most people already realize that the KKK doesn’t represent Christian teachings. That’s what I and other Muslims long for—the day when these terrorists praising the Prophet Muhammad or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims.

I did not realize at the time that this was a recycled article that was written in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, attacks that are believed to have been orchestrated by Al Quaeda, a group whose aims, methods, and ideology are quite different from those of ISIS.

While my original intent in posting the article–to highlight the fallacy of tarring all Muslims with a terrorist brush–is still valid, my posting it became a learning opportunity for me.

A Facebook friend who is career military took issue (politely) with the article, and posted a link to another article that I have found tremendously enlightening.  I knew very little about the Islamic State before reading it, and now I feel that I have a much better understanding.  I am grateful that he took the time to read my post and to share his perspective with me.

Some key points:

We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world. . . .

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. . . .

Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

I myself have no problem distinguishing between the Islamic State and the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the countries they inhabit, any more than I have a problem distinguishing the vast majority of Christians from various crazy fringe groups who spout hate-filled rhetoric Jesus would never endorse.

We can acknowledge the religious motivations of the Islamic State without accusing our Muslim friends and neighbors of being terrorists.  There is no need to follow the example of the candidates at the second Democratic debate, who were all reluctant to talk of Radical Islam and tried to minimize the role religion may have played in the recent attacks in Paris.  To ignore the ideology of the Islamic State is perilous.  We must know the enemy to defeat it.

And we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge one another on whatever assumptions we make, and to listen to and learn from one another.

 

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I know how I lucky I am to live in a country where my freedom to worship however I wish is guaranteed.  I take that for granted and I find it hard to realize that people are still persecuted to the point of death for their beliefs in other parts of the world even though I know it’s true.

Still, the constant Catholic-bashing gets me down, y’all.  It hurts when I go to the happy little Facebook group I belong to that’s supposed to be about celebrating my hometown with lots of nostalgic posts and read this: “I don’t see how anyone can believe in a religion that is so self-indulgent.”  Or when a local news channel chooses to juxtapose the joyful news of a new Pope with one about settling an abuse lawsuit.  Or when I attempt to point out in yet another Facebook thread that there are plenty of pedophiles in Protestant churches (and in schools, and sports organizations, and other places) and am told that clearly I am just trying to minimize the evil of the abuse and the cover up.

Living in the Bible Belt, I have dealt with misunderstandings and prejudices about my faith for my entire life.  I’ve heard that I’ll be going to Hell because a sprinkling Baptism isn’t good enough.  I’ve come out of Mass to find sensationalistic pamphlets purportedly penned by ex-priests and ex-nuns who know the “truth” about the Church shoved under my windshield wipers.  I’ve  been told lies about my faith to my face and have had my explanations flatly contradicted or ignored.

When people come to my door and ask if I have a church family I experience a moment of trepidation and discomfort when I tell them that I’m Catholic because of the thoughts I am pretty sure will be going through their heads.  When William was chanting “Habemus Papam” in the office of his public school last week and asking me if everyone at school knew about the Pope, I was afraid of what people might say to him.  He hasn’t experienced religious prejudice yet.

My Catholic faith is the very core of who I am, and when you bash the Church in which I firmly believe, you are bashing me.  Questions are wonderful.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss, explain–even debate.  I don’t believe that all religions are equal, but I do believe that people’s beliefs, whatever they may be, are worthy of respect.  Someone else said it better than me, y’all:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

                  — Walt Whitman

We heard America singing–for real–last Thursday at the Spring Concert at Lorelei’s school.  I’ve endured attended countless plays, pageants, and concerts in my 21 years of parenting, but this one stands out.  In between renditions of our National Anthem and Yankee Doodle (that was Lorelei’s class) and other patriotic songs enthusiastically performed by cute kids and accompanied by hand gestures, we were treated to proclamations of the Gettysburg Address, the First Amendment to the Constitution, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and other words that symbolize what America stands for.

“I’m American, you’re American!” sang the children, and they were the melting pot personified up on the stage.  No one needs to preach diversity when you can see it right in front of you.  There is no better explanation of what it means to be an American than to see the great-grandchildren of slaves standing on a stage with white kids whose ancestors  probably landed two hundred years ago along with more recent arrivals from Asian and Latino countries, all of them smiling and singing in English “This land is my land.”

So with a happy tear in my eye I went on to my next engagement, a meeting of my book club at which we watched the famous movie adaptation of our most recent book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s so easy, watching this vivid reminder of the dark history of race relations in the South, to feel complacent about how far we’ve come.  My older daughter attends college in Mobile, Alabama, and of course her classmates are as diverse as Lorelei’s are.  Twenty years ago, the sight of an interracial couple walking down the streets of Knoxville would make you look again.  No longer. 

But the human heart is a dark and secret place, and prejudices still lurk there.  All Tom Robinson’s troubles started, remember, when he walked past a white woman’s house.  And look what happened to Trayvon Martin, who had the gall to “walk while black” through a mostly white neighborhood.  That he had the legal right to be there, that he was actually a guest there, didn’t matter to a man who saw only the color of his skin and made predictable assumptions thereupon.

Prejudice against certain immigrant communities of the past, like the Irish and the Italians, may have died out, but there are new immigrants to take their place as the targets of our collective suspicion.  Just yesterday I heard someone talking about “all these people with their strange religions” coming in and changing our country which was “founded upon Christian principles.”  Religious freedom is one of the bedrocks upon which this nation was founded, actually.  And what is the Number One Christian Principle if it’s not “Love one another”?

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout walks Boo Radley (surely the personification of the hated and feared “other”) back to his house.  She stands on his porch and realizes that she had “never seen [the] neighborhood from this angle . . . [Atticus] said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”  Later that evening she says of a character in a book Atticus is reading to her: “He hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice . . . ” and he replies, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Linking up today with #WorthRevisit where bloggers “recycle” favorite posts each week.  The linkup is hosted at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb and you can see this week’s posts right here.

 

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