Will Progress Always Be Built On Top of the Dead?

I’m tired of our enlightenment being built upon the bones of the dead.

I’m tired of living in a world where we only seem to take action after tragedy and then as the pain fades away so does our resolution. I’m tired of our “forward progress” being made by the result of hatred rather than the desire for something better. I’m tired of looking at history and knowing that our greatest movements were paid for in the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. And I’m tired of wondering if it will always be that way. 

It bothers me that our desire for change and better tomorrows is fickle, depending on what is happening right now. Is our attention span so short that we forget the news of yesterday and only have room in our heads and hearts for the actions of the present? Let’s start with an example that says nothing of hatred, only of our fickleness: Not too long ago people were screaming over Ebola (which, by the way, seemed to stop completely the day after elections), but before that it was N1H1, Anthrax, West Nile, Bird Flu, SARS… I’m sure I can continue. We jump crazily from crisis to crisis because that’s what makes news and we must be fed fear in order to desire action. Our fear bleeds into our politics and our politics bleed into our deeds. And too, too often our deeds are based in hatred and fear rather than thought and reason.

The LGBT movement has made more progress in a shorter amount of time than any movement I’m aware of. But how many people had to be kicked out of their homes or spit on by their loved ones before we as a culture felt willing to accept them? How many gay people were killed by their “normal” and “better” counterparts? For how many generations did we scream “you’re not natural!” before we whispered “I accept you as you are.” Even when our roads are not paved with blood, they are often paved in pain, and while they have led us to a brighter future than past, the bones of the dead still crunch beneath our feet in a sickening retelling of all that has made us “great”.

Today I hear people screaming about Islam. I hear the outcry for “justice” and a demand for “liberty.” I hear people say that Muslims are less than human, and all I can keep thinking is:

Every year we put up posters for Black History Month and I know the ink for them was made with the blood of those who fought to be considered more than animals or livestock. The road to Native American Week was paved with the same bones crushed beneath the wagon wheels of Manifest Destiny. 

How many people will have to die before this group, too, is considered human?

I ask these words and people scream: “They killed first! They deserve it!”

No. How dare anyone make such accusations that an entire culture deserves to be crushed beneath your heel because of the actions of a few? I understand that a group of Islamic extremists committed a horrible, horrible deed in France and part of me understands the knee-jerk reaction of people crying for vengeance. But I cannot understand how we as a culture can be willing to take away the rights of a million people based on the actions of those few and then turn our heads away and NOT try to take guns away from White males– the group that has been behind almost every school shooting on our own soil in the last fifteen years.

I do not understand a culture that can say that the actions of one extremist reflects the desires of a million people, and then, when it’s one of our “own” killing our children, declare that that’s just a psychopath or a lone gunman.The hypocrisy is suffocating.

So people scream for the deaths of those that are “less than human” and forget that their words are just as hate-filled as those that declared the same about other races in previous generations. And eventually one too many innocent people die and we start to realize that those “monsters” really were human all along. So we try to cover our tracks with remembrance weeks and memorials (unless there’s not a big enough outcry and then it just fades quietly away like Japanese Internment Camps or Native boarding schools), and we move on to other people that will eventually teach us tolerance through death and outcries. The order continues its sickening, horrifying dance.

When will we start making progress without bloodshed? How many people have to die before our “enemies” are not spoken about with vengeance and spite? At least a few people reading this might be tempted to respond: “at least one more of their side.” But that doesn’t help us. By responding to hatred with more hatred, you are not setting an even score of

US: 1 Them: 1

but instead set the standard:

Hatred: 2 Humanity: 0

And there’s something wrong with that.

I realize even as I write this that I am making generalizations as much as anyone. It strengthens me to know that for every parent that screams “You’re not my son anymore!” there are a dozen people willing to whisper “I am here and I support you.” For every innocent’s gravestone that is erected there are a hundred who bow their heads in mourning. For every heart-wrenching event there are a thousand willing to take action and provide support. Those that are evil will always be outnumbered by those who are good.

I only wish that the good were more willing to stand and make changes in the light of our every-day occurrences, and not have to wait until tragedy.


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