The past week has given us all a great deal to think about, very little of it good. The cacophony of hateful violence, real and threatened, in our country seemed to reach a new crescendo over the last several days with the racially motivated shooting of two African American people near Louisville, Ky., the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the numerous explosive devices sent to prominent political figures. Though they occurred in isolation from one another and were the seemingly random acts of dangerous loners, the threads that tie these disparate events together become obvious upon reflection: All involve the “othering” of a group, based on race, religion, ethnicity or similar aspects of identity.
This pattern of degrading and dehumanizing those who look, pray, and think differently from us is a common refrain throughout history; from the Catholic massacres of Protestants in 16th Century France, to the endless pogroms waged against the Jews of Europe, from the Japanese reign of terror in 1930’s China to the horrific genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and Hitler’s Germany. Making palatable actions and policies that would ordinarily be anathema to social norms requires that the victims of these actions be convincingly portrayed as something less than human. And lest we see our country as an exception to this tragic tendency in human history, we must note that the degradation and dehumanization of enslaved African-Americans was a prerequisite for slavery to flourish in our first century as a nation.
In his September 1963 “Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” which he wrote after the infamous bombing of a Birmingham, Ala. church that killed four African-American girls, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the gathering “we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” Dr. King’s words remind us that in the face of these latest hate-filled acts of terrorism, this work now falls to all of us, each in our own way. Indeed, I hear in these words a call to not only identify the systems at work in our world, but, far more uncomfortably, to reckon with the ways in which we participate in and provide fodder for these systems.
Like all of you, I must also wrestle with the complexities of parenting in this fractious and fractured age. To what extent, if any, you will discuss the deeply troubling events of the past week with your children can only be a personal decision, arrived at through careful contemplation. To assist in that process, and in any of the discussions that may ensue from it, I’ve included below links to some resources that, I hope, will be of use to you.
Yours in dispirited frustration yet ever-hopeful expectation of the better world our children will create,