A Year of Remembrance
2016 has been a year of tremendous tragedy, sorrow, social divisiveness, and political turmoil. We’ve seen the deaths of prominent celebrities, like Nathalie Cole, Alan Rickman, Prince, and Muhammad Ali, just to name a few. This has been one of the most contentious presidential election cycles in recent years. The rise of Donald Trump as the GOP frontrunner has divided the American public, and his rallies have erupted in violence on many occasions.
To top all of that off, this past Sunday, a gunman murdered 49 people and injured at least 50 others at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. This is the latest mass shooting, continuing a narrative that has become all too common in the United States. According to CNN, we’ve seen 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year.
That same Sunday, there was another attempted shooting – this time at an LGBTQ Pride Parade – in California. Thankfully, the would-be perpetrator was detected by the police before he could act.
What makes this shooting and the attempted one unique is that both men are alleged to be either gay or bisexual, yet they both targeted the LBGTQ community. Over the next few weeks, the media will dissect and fear monger this story to the fullest extent. Political leaders will use this to rally against Muslims and Middle Eastern people. Liberals will call for tougher gun laws, and conservatives will probably claim that more law-abiding citizens with guns can prevent more gun violence.
In the midst of all this mess in 2016, we as everyday people will look to these events as a sign that humanity has a long way to go. Some of us have lost or will lose any hope that things will get better for any of us. Violence against LGBTQ individuals continues to manifest itself. Sexism and violence against women continue, as we witnessed in the Stanford University rape case. Not to mention there is still America’s original sin, racism, that still divides people to this day (e.g. over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a string of prominent murders of black women, men, and children blasted on various media outlets). The recently infamous act of terror against black people was last June’s mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
Are we screwed? Is there hope?
With all of this chaos, it seems like those who want to be on the right side of history have a remarkable uphill battle ahead of them. Yet there is some hope to offer those who want a world of justice and equity for all. I think we need to look no further than our own communities and the people we have in our lives.
Here are the stories of hope I’ve experienced in my own community and from the people who’ve passed through my life…
From my earlier post, some readers may know I worked has a social worker in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. I was fortunate to work with many bright and beautiful young people in that city. I remember a young man – whom we’ll call Jeff – who, when he joined the workforce development program, was still being influenced by his rough neighborhood’s gang culture and drugs. He was on a path of self-destruction. I’ve seen many people I grew up with go down. Yet with the aid of my colleagues and me, Jeff turned his life around for the better. Now, Jeff is set to get married soon and provide a life for his daughter that he wasn’t afforded. He has been working full-time in a well-paying job for over two years now.
Jeff is one of the many success stories of personal triumph and hope I’ve personally witnessed. A restorative justice program implemented by my social worker colleagues and me is now being implemented at the national level at the same workforce development program. This program gives young men and women like Jeff a fighting chance in a city steeped in racism, poverty, classism, and political turmoil.
Since moving to the South, I’ve had a chance to work in soup kitchens on Atlanta’s south side, learn white water rafting skills in rural North Carolina, and hang out with rural folks in the mountains of Tennessee. I recently met a white Vietnam Vet who survived three tours of duty. He said his best buddy was a black soldier whom he considered a brother. He told me in the jungle color, race, sexuality, or religion didn’t matter. What mattered was having each other’s backs. In the foothills of North Carolina, I met another Vet who I can safely assume is a Trump supporter, due to the bumper sticker on his pickup truck. At first, I was wary of speaking to him. But after a few minutes, this man and his wife invited me and other vets to his land for an overnight camping trip and day hike to a waterfall.
From these encounters, I’ve learned that people are full of surprises and contradictions. As a black northerner navigating the South, I’m sure that I’ve come across plenty of racist and hateful white people who just weren’t open about it. White people like that, unfortunately, exist everywhere. But there are also good white people everywhere, and I’ve met good white people. Thus, I don’t hate white people, but I am critical of racist white people. The fact that the shooter in Orlando was Muslim doesn’t mean we should hate people who are Muslim. Still, it should not hinder from having an honest and thorough critique of religion and religious ideology that promotes hate and internalized self-hate. This is true for all religions, not just Islam. For instance, the Catholic Church is trying to influence legislation that would protect child molesters. This should be criticized.
Honest critique, not hate, provides a path of progress of hope.
Those on the right side of history should challenge those who hate others because of sexuality, race, gender, sex, or beliefs. (Or lack thereof said beliefs). Hate and prejudice will always be a stain on the human consciousness, and it drives these mass shootings like Orlando. Hatred and prejudice lay at the heart of the Orlando shooting. Yet, time after time, we blame mental illness for such acts of violence. We should take a critical look at mental illness and realize that these mass shooters are not “mentally ill,” especially since databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. These men are violent sociopaths and psychopaths, who have been influenced by a culture that at times promotes violence and rewards sociopathic behaviors. We need to have a critical look at the gun violence that seems to be at the heart of numerous deaths and suicides in this country every year. We need to look at Western nations that have curbed gun violence in their respective countries, e.g. Australia.
As long as we are willing to engage in an honest critique of the problems, hope exists for a better future and can guide us toward the right side of history.
This Side of Righteousness
Che Guevara once said, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” We should tremble at the terror the patrons of Pulse nightclub in Orlando experienced on Sunday night. But we should not fixate on the people who commit acts of horror. Instead, we should honor the dead, like Edward Sotomayor, who worked diligently to be a passionate and positive human being. We should look to those people in our personal lives whom we inspire or who inspire us, or to the random acts of kindness that strangers do for each other. On a recent trip to the emergency room, I jokingly told the nurse that I had no idea who this woman was that I had brought into the emergency room. (The woman was really my significant other and love of my life.) The nurse laughed and told us that we would be surprised at the number of people who are brought to the emergency rooms by strangers. These acts of goodness will never make headlines or trend on social media. Yet these acts of kindness and compassion happen all the time. We should honor these acts of goodness and look to them for guidance and hope.
History shows us that even against great obstacles, righteousness and goodness sometimes wins and that there is a reason to remain hopeful. For instance, there was a time when black people like myself were held in bondage and openly discriminated against, women were treated as the sole property of their male spouses, children worked in factories, and LGBTQ people couldn’t be married. People on the righteous side of history won these battles for equality. But new battles continue to arise and can feel like setbacks. I don’t think that we should give up after these setbacks. Rather, these setbacks and the previous victories should give us strength to move forward, to hope for better. So if the news seems to only focus on the negative aspects of the human condition, just know that there is another side of the human condition and the media often overlooks it. The other side is compassion, love, respect, and righteousness, and you can find it by looking to your community and the people who have passed through your life. In the wake of this latest tragedy, remember that. Righteousness can and sometimes does prevail.