The Liberal Librarian:
I don’t remember how old I was; maybe 10 or 11. And I don’t remember what occasioned the discussion; possibly because my social circle was a rainbow coalition of different races, ethnicities, genders. But I remember what my mother told me one day: Yes, you have to fear all black people, because when we had just moved to this country, your father was mugged by a black man. And maybe I’m just imagining my response to her, all these years later, but to my recollection I didn’t let her say that without push-back. I questioned why I should fear an entire group because of the actions of one person. Although now I’m of the opinion that I am my brother’s keeper, I’m also of the opinion that at some point my brother must answer for his own actions. I don’t own them, only what I do and say. Likewise, the African Americans who come into my library shouldn’t have to answer for the bad decisions of another African American. At some point, we all have to stand alone before the world and justify our actions. The hundred are not responsible for the criminality of the one.
My mother has mellowed as she’s grown older. I’d like to think that my brothers and I have helped her see the ludicrousness of her fears. It also helped that her mother, my grandmother, shuffled off her mortal coil two decades ago; her skin was translucent, her eyes blue, and she made it clear that she was superior to anyone whose skin was even a shade darker than hers. She was the motive force of the racism in my family. But something happened at my library which brought that childhood incident back fresh into my mind.
A young black man—probably not much older than Trayvon Martin—came into my library earlier this week. He had requested some books, and wanted to know if they had come in. I took his library card, looked up his account, and told him that they were in transit, and should arrive either this week or early next. He thanked me and, very politely, asked me if he could go read at a table. I smiled and said “Of course, that’s why we’re here.” He returned some time later, asking if we had any books on the topic of the ones he had requested. I did a quick search, and took him back to the section where we had some relevant material. He looked at me, smiled, thanked me, and then touched my shoulder in further thanks. I looked at him, smiled, but my thought was “No, young man, I don’t think you’re a thug. No one should think you’re a thug just because of the color of your skin.”
Seeing people as people, not demonizing entire groups is not a “liberal” value. And “conservatives” don’t have to be against it. Doing so is the only thing which will ensure our survival as a species. After 9/11, whether we like to admit it or not, we demonized all Muslims, which made it all too easy to sell the Iraq War to a shell-shocked populace. Every new group which has arrived on our shores has experienced demonization. It used to be the Irish and Italians. Now it’s dysfunctional African-Americans (although, hasn’t it always been so?) and Latinos who, in the words of Steve King, are mostly “drug mules”. Such narratives are not worthy of a civilized society. Part of our Old Testament heritage is to welcome the stranger; for once we were strangers as well. But that’s part of the Bible which many of our so-called Christians seem fit to ignore.