Opinion: America -- Home of the Hateful?

Carolyn Light

Will we ever stop denying the humanity of others?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I did not celebrate the 4th of July; I haven’t celebrated it in years.

As a child, I loved the holiday — the glitter and sparkle appealed to me, as did the fireworks, the summer weather, the beach, and the hotdogs. 

As I grew up and learned American history, I found that I couldn’t drum up any energy to be patriotic, and I quietly refrained. This year, I flat-out refused.

“Come to the fireworks with us,” my partner’s brother texted me. 

“Absolutely not,” I wrote back. “There’s nothing here that I feel like celebrating.”

I’m not sure why there ever was. America is a country that celebrates the dehumanization of anyone other than your cis white male — it always has been. The United States was founded on the subjugation of people of color — it’s woven into our very fabric; it’s our lifeblood.

Still, there was a time when I thought we were going to move forward. It was easy for me to feel this way; I’m a white woman and until last week, I had full ownership of my body. I was raised in a family that celebrated differences — happily attended same-sex and interracial weddings, and felt safely cocooned in my blue bubble.

I’ll openly admit that it was easy for me to not notice what was happening in rural America — the loss of jobs and the endless struggle to find meaningful (or any) work, the small towns ravaged by drugs and despair. I came into adulthood during Obama’s presidency, and it was then that I began tuning into the struggles throughout our country.

 Trump reached many of his voters by “saying what he wanted to say,” and “acting differently from a regular politician.” And, a lot of the things that Trump said were hateful. In fact, most of the things he said were hateful. He called Mexican people rapists; made fun of a disabled reporter; talked about “grabbing women in the p*ssy” — among so many others.

These are the comments that made people happy? These are the reasons we’re glad he “said what he wanted to say”? I maintain that some things are better left unsaid.

Too, Trump did well with rural Americans. The reasons that so many voted for Trump in 2016 are varied and complicated — and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to feel desperate for work and a scramble above the poverty line.

Still, it would have been one thing if Trump had actually known anything about previous policies that had been enacted by our administrations — if he had looked at the rising rates of inflation and the stagnant rates of wages and said, “Hey, looks like rural America is struggling due to some misguided policies we’ve had — here’s how I’m going to put you back to work!

But, that would have required Trump to be in tune with, or care for, the working class — which he is not and does not, and it would have also required him to do some reading on the history of our country and our government — which he clearly didn’t.

Instead, he provided the working poor with racial scapegoats for their problems — and opened the door for known white supremacists and extremist evangelicals to freely fly their flags. It’s not that these groups didn’t always exist here — they did. But Trump welcomed them into the spotlight, and they gladly took a bow.

Now, here we are today — and while this responsibility doesn’t fall solely on Trump (we’ve had decades of misguided policies) — we’re more staunchly divided than we’ve been in years. The NRA owns our politicians —  we’re getting gunned down everywhere we go, women have lost autonomy over their bodies, the Supreme Court will be hearing cases about affirmative action and voter maps, and one justice has even signaled he’d like to look at cases that have provided civil liberties to the LGBTQ community.

Why do we need to deny the humanity of others to be happy with ourselves?

That’s what we’re doing; it’s what we’ve always done. We stole the land we live on by slaughtering Native Americans. We built the country we have by forcibly dragging Black people from their homes and enslaving them. We sustain our economy on the backs of severely underpaid and horribly mistreated migrant workers.

If we viewed other people as fully human — it wouldn’t be so easy to behave in this manner. The only way to treat people in this manner is to view them as lesser. Inferior. 

Then, we tell ourselves lies to maintain this belief. 

Well, she just shouldn’t have sex, we say about the women from whom we’ve taken away the right to choose — women who may have been raped, or who may need an abortion to stay alive.

We’re protecting our children from the mentally ill, we say as we make drag queens illegal and gut the rights of parents and their transgender children.

That whole town is filled with junkies, we say about rural landscapes ravaged by drugs.

It’s okay to pay them nothing, they don’t even belong here, and they’re stealing our jobs in the first place, we say about our migrant and undocumented workers.

We tell ourselves these lies, while actively refusing to look deeper. We don’t look at ways to prevent the need for an abortion; we don’t celebrate the bravery that it took to have an honest conversation with oneself about their gender identity; we don’t try to determine the root of the despair causing the opioid epidemic.

We simply lie. We tell ourselves lies about the (lack of) humanity of others. We build ourselves up by dragging others down and denying their civil liberties or their basic right to common courtesy.

And really, to what end? Lack of abortion medical care will be detrimental to us all. Why would we celebrate that? And, conversely, how has same-sex marriage ever hurt anyone who is attracted to members of the opposite sex? Why shouldn’t parents have the right to make medical decisions with their child’s doctors about their child’s transgender care? 

Why do we need to make laws about the bodies of others, stifle the rights of others, and snuff out anything that we simply think we don’t like? 

Why don’t we just butt out?

Is this what it takes for some of us to feel better about the lives we’re living? Lives that we’ve deemed woefully inadequate — whether or not we want to admit that to ourselves?

Meanwhile, we ignore the true causes of American suffering — we don’t invest in education, have insufficient healthcare coverage, and have a dearth of blue-collar jobs. We ignore that our “war on drugs” caused excessive incarceration in our Black communities, accept inequalities as the cost of doing business, cut taxes for our wealthy and don’t provide community services or family planning for teenagers or low-income communities.

We look past the fact that our government has failed us, and failed us, and failed us again.

Instead, we lie to ourselves and to each other, and point fingers. We look at people who are different from ourselves and say “Well, I’m right and normal, so they must be wrong, and problematic. That. That is what needs to be changed.

Denying the humanity of others is not unique to America, but it’s certainly celebrated here — and until we’re able and willing to understand our own personal struggles and insecurities — really look inward at ourselves as people, and our collective self as a country, I don’t see it getting better soon.

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