CANARIES IN OUR COAL MINE
What is the responsibility of a privileged white guy when he’s confronted with racism?
Late last month marked a horrid anniversary.
January 29 was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Germany. As I read the sobering comments of some of the survivors, I was so moved by their thoughts, I decided that they could speak so much more eloquently than I about the topic for this blog entry—racism and bigotry.
If you’ve read my new novel, Blood on the Chesapeake, you may know that beyond the beautiful Eastern Shore setting and behind the intriguing mystery and ghost story, my historical novel addresses an issue that is still very much pressing today—racial injustice. In essence, the story asks the question:
“What is the responsibility of a privileged white guy when he’s confronted with racism?
Perhaps, the better question to ask is, what is everyone’s responsibility when they come upon racism? Sonia K, a Holocaust survivor, recently shared her response, informed by her horrible personal experience…
“Silence is approval of racism. The biggest mistake that was made during the Holocaust was that people didn't speak up. The world was quiet then, but we must not be quiet again. Now we know better. We must all commit to making the world a better, kinder and more understanding place. Perhaps it's as simple as speaking out when you see something wrong and saying, ‘I know better.’…But the last few months have felt like 1938 all over again.”
"Open discrimination (in America) got quieter over time, but I see it rising up again. I fear a rise in jokes about minorities have led the next generation to feel apathetic about bigotry. If you look back to the lead up to the Holocaust, it started with just bullying and scapegoating, with jokes and propaganda. People don’t understand that what might seem like a harmless or ignorant joke can eventually create a more dangerous world…The only way we’re going to stop this divisiveness is to remember what happened and realize we’re all in this together.”—Michael Bornstein, retired biotech scientist and Holocaust survivor
Maybe we should remember these words the next time we’re thinking about passing on that snarky, sarcastic Facebook post or sharing that degrading Tweet.
“We’re all in this together.”
It is no accident that, in my novel, I chose these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a cautionary tale to my characters. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
How about for this month of February, the month of love, we take Dr. King’s advice and extend compassion and understanding to others, especially those with whom we disagree?