In the Biblical story of Babel, the peoples of earth come together to build a tower that attempts to reach the heavens. For this act of hubris, the tower is destroyed by the Creator, and the peoples of the earth are scattered and (significantly) separated by languages. This story always haunted me as a child. It was like the tale of Icarus who sailed to close to the sun on manmade wings. I recognized even as a child the cautionary tale imbedded in the symbology of the story: we humans will be punished for our pride, for our reaching for the heavens, and (sinisterly) for our unity.
Since the election of 2016, I have lived in a state of horror at the tone of the public forum. As a Southerner who fought her entire life against the entrenched racial prejudices of a conservative patriarchal culture, I watched aghast at the horror of Charlottesville, klansmen and neo-Nazis, hateful words of moral ambivalence spouted from the highest office in the land. I became aware of characters that made Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh look like free thinkers. With sorrow in my heart, I followed the scurrilous lies of Alex Jones. I lived in a new world–a world where people felt empowered to tell “nig7777” jokes in public.
All this was no surprise. For the entire Obama presidency, I found myself being cut from circles because of my politics. Professional isolation was a part of my life as a teacher at a private school. It became difficult to have dinner with folks, because of the hatred spewed against Obama. All this was new, for I had liked or not liked presidents before, and always, there had been an ability of people to discuss things rationally. Things were different with Obama. Everything was about birth certificates and conspiracies, blackness vs. whiteness. Suddenly, if you disagreed with someone’s politics, you were “unpatriotic” or didn’t want America to be “great.” I was not surprised about what happened in November of 2016. But I was deeply saddened, and I continue to mourn. I remembered the Tower of Babel.
For many people, The Obama administration–complete with its successes and failures–was a time of building. We were building a new thing–a society that addressed the problems endemic to our pluralistic society. Instead of pretending that poverty is more than just a reflection of work ethic, we began to analyze ways to get people involved in the economy. Instead of bowing to the Medical Industrial Complex and the malpractice represented by insurance company-mandated treatments, we began to ask, “Is there a better way?” Instead of relying on jingoism and false-patriotism, we began to see our country as a leader in the world in terms of human rights and the quest for a better world. We celebrated the multi-colored society–white, black, yellow, red, and everything in between. For awhile, it wasn’t just about rich, old, white men (with all due respect). It was about all of us. We began to recognize that we are stewards of the environment and responsible for our messes, our spills, our radiation. We demanded a higher standard. For awhile, we rallied as a society to protect those in our culture traditionally relegated to second-class citizenship: the differently sexual, the homeless, the mentally ill, the folks who could not quite get that start to be full participants in the American Dream. For awhile, the idea of coming together to accept, to support, to build, to uplift, to move forward was the standard of our land. I suppose we were building a tower to reach the heavens.
Now the tower is in ruins. Voices are scattered. There is no common language, save for the common language of hatred of the other. I have found myself fearing for the future of my children in this new world, in this conspiracy-oriented hate locker. But as much as I would like to blame a president or a party or the skinheads gathering in Charlottesville or Portland, I have come to understand that there is a deeper and more complex pathway leading to blame.
Each time I have watched a video on Facebook of an injustice, I have fed the monster we have bred. Each time I clicked to read about the “Sandy Hook Hoax” or toyed with the internet seeking out the theories and the “facts” upon which these racist monsters base their hateful life-courses, I fed the beast. The beast has all but consumed any HOPE I had. For despite the minions of darkness that now seem to control through terror our streets, cities, and neighborhoods, I see no “monsters” in real life. Instead, I see ordinary and otherwise good people shrugging off “pussy grabbing,” “there are some good Nazis,” “he was running (though unarmed),” “they” don’t matter because they are the “other.” Facebook feeds are nothing more than ad hominem attacks, vicious and sweeping stereotypes, and NO ONE EVER LISTENS.
For awhile, I allowed myself to believe that a new generation would arise, accept the injustices of the past, take responsibility for misdeeds and misjudgments of our forebears (no–it was not OK to buy and sell people; it was not ok to send smallpox-ridden blankets to native Americans). For while….
We live in a new age now. It is an age in which lies are given the same weight as truth, in which a person’s worth is based on how much wealth they have or the brand of their faith. It is a world wherein we have elected a President who made a life’s quest of accruing obscene wealth. It is a world where officials are once again trying to limit people’s right to vote. It is a world where the “haves” don’t give a damn about the “have nots,” and they justify their lack of empathy and compassion through their so-called religion and/or their obsession with the false philosophy of Ayn Randism. It is a world I could not have imagined in my wildest imaginings.
Who is responsible? There is no where to look but at myself. I made the mistake of believing the fight was almost won. I made the mistake of believing that the blood of martyrs had washed us as a country, that Emmett Till and others had not died in vain. I was dead wrong. All of us were wrong.
Make no mistake: we are witnessing the rise of a breed of fascism that makes Hitler’s quest look quaint by comparison. We must pull ourselves away from the Facebook and Twitter feeds that spew out the latest outrage. We must prepare for the fight of our lives, for it is my belief that we may soon be called to account for our beliefs. We may be asked, like those who have stood against hatred and tribalism in the past, to chose the language in which we will write our epitaphs. Will we go down in history as having said no to fascism, or will we cower and cringe in the face of bullies who want to take us back to the “good old days”? Will we allow people of color to be murdered with impunity and made to feel unwanted in their own land, or will we say no? Will we allow non-Americans to be imprisoned and tortured, or will we demand that the greatest nation in the world treat other human beings with dignity and respect?
These questions must be asked, and they must soon be answered. The tower lies in ruins. Language has lost its ability to unite. The future of the human race is at stake.