Monday, October 11, 2010

White Men With Guns

My brother sent me this story from Keska at Open Salon.

I saw it. But I couldn’t believe it.

There I was, in a fast food drive through, behind a man whose back window decal, in small white letters, sent me a message that sent a chill down my spine—just as he’d hoped it would, no doubt. It said:

THIS COUNTRY WAS BUILT BY WHITE MEN WITH GUNS

Now, I was there because I needed something to eat badly. I’ve been tending a new puppy that behaves and has to be tended like a newborn, so you only get so much “break’ time if you’re keeping to your schedule. I had just enough to grab a bite, get some work done…and get ready for play time number…I’m not sure which.

But I lost my appetite entirely, when I saw that decal.

I’ve lost my appetite for America, period, to be honest—he’s just one of the many reasons. Forget that fact that if he really believes this, this guy must never have read a history book in his life—it’s the fact that he felt comfortable driving around with that ridiculous statement on his back window that galls me most. But I saw it comin’.

When I first suggested to friends that the Tea Party and other Obama detractors were opening a Pandora’s box of deeper, uglier hatreds and behaviors…people told me to stop being so 60s/sensitive/black. But you see…I am all three. Which means that I have lived through and understood, on a very deep level, the messages behind today’s headlines.

The article is accompanied by the usual collection of Photoshopped pictures of President and Michelle Obama that you’ve seen before, including the ones you’ve gotten from your right-wing uncle who thinks they’re just hilarious and you have no sense of humor, and besides, didn’t you liberals say mean things about George W. Bush? But the deep hatred, the primal howls of wounded white privilege and patriarchy that Keska talks about goes way beyond the childish frat-boy name-calling; it’s like turning over a rotting log and seeing the ants and maggots seething in the moist dirt.

It is cold comfort to tell people such as Keska that this sort of rage is not new, and I don’t think it’s any news to her, anyway. Bigotry and fear of the “other” is something America has never had a great big lack of in spite of our lofty goals of equality, liberty, and freedom. Some people have always thought that there are unspoken qualifiers for those ideals: they apply if you’re white, straight, and Christian. And they fight very hard to maintain their status quo. The harshest battles in the American society have come not when freedom has been threatened but when it was being expanded: Little Rock in 1957, Selma in 1963, even the Stonewall in 1969. Somehow these white men with guns think that freedom and citizenship is a zero-sum proposition and that they must give up theirs in order for others to have what they have. And some of them are just plain racist assholes who are exploiting the fear and paranoia of the foolish and the weak.

This kind of outburst is a sign of desperation as these people see their cozy little world of privilege threatened by reality. They had their orgy of self-indulgence and place-putting under Republican presidents and compliant Democrats, but now they’re being told they have to share and they don’t like it. The white men with guns are lashing out in hateful ways, and they’re being enabled by Republicans who offer no better ideas but certainly know how to manipulate and exploit from a safe distance so that when something terrible happens they can deny they ever knew anything about it. That doesn’t mean they should be left to their own devices and dismissed as merely the tantrums of spoiled brats. So while the First Amendment is the bulwark of free speech — as well it should be — that doesn’t mean we can’t hold the people who send out this crap and foment this noise accountable and not let it go unchallenged. Fight back. Call them the racists and bigots that they are, and take it from someone who knows from bullying and bashing that it is damn well worth the struggle.

And we should remind them, with all the irony we can muster, that they are the ones in the minority.