On Racism, the Holocaust Museum Shooting, and the Other

alex01thumbI’ve been struggling all day to write this post, but I haven’t been able to find the proper words. I just don’t understand people and their fear of the Other, which, as a wise Muppet once noted, leads to anger, leads to hate, leads to suffering.

Anthropologically, it makes sense. We fear the Other because it is not like us – we recoil from things that are different. Doubtless it saved our collective human skins when we were growing our brains in the wilderness. “That thing doesn’t look like us, and it just ate Jack. Okay, everyone: Avoid that furry thing with the big teeth.” But not in today’s society. We’re supposed to be evolved, more sentient, ‘higher’ beings, and thus be able to ignore our crocodile brains, the ones that tell us, “Danger! Danger! This person is different – this person is enemy! Crush! Kill! Destroy!”

Apparently not. The fear and vitriolic hatred of the Other is alive and well in human society, and it’s even taken on new and exciting forms. Racism. Xenophobia. Xeno-theophobia. Homophobia. Heterophobia. Fear of the opposite gender. Even fear (yes, fear) of different ideas. Ever wonder why the rhetoric from the far left and the far right is so hateful? Fear. Fear for others, fear for themselves, the undercurrent of enemies enemies enemies that pervades their brains when confronted with an idea with which they do not agree. It’s happened to me before – it’s probably happened to you. We cannot destroy it; all we can do is recognize it for what it is, and use our higher thinking processes to overcome it. It’s paranoia, folks, and it’s bad for you.

Yesterday, that fear-turned-hatred, the hatred of different races and religions, fed by fear-inspired propaganda, led an 88-year-old white supremacist to shoot and kill a 39-year-old black security guard, who, mistaking his killer for an elderly man simply in need of help, opened the door for him to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. An act of kindness on the guard’s part led to his own death. Fear wins; decency loses. Unless we can control that fear and recognize the Other as human beings with lives, and families, and pets, and secrets, and goals, and dreams, and skills, we will never break the cycle of violence and hatred and death.

For even if there are but two people left on this earth, each will still be Other.

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11 Comments

  1. So much wisdom in one so very young. Excellent article, Alex.

  2. Alex –

    That was a great piece. I was especially inspired by the last line. Kudos.

  3. Tommy, you just can’t make sense of some things. I absolutely hate it when I hear someone say ‘Everything happens for a resaon.”
    Bullshit. Tell that to the adorable son that the gaurd left behind.
    We’ve had our own run-ins with the gun nuts at the blog I contirbute to.
    As a journalist, I’m sure you hate to ban other bloggers from commenting, but damn. There’s some men that just can’t be reached.

  4. Oh, yeah, and not to mention our own wingnut killer in Wichita recently.
    Save the babies, fine with me.
    Abort the wingnuts with guns, post-emptively.

    Yeah, I know….postemptive is not a word.

  5. PCL, Splash, thanks very much. I’m glad I was able to get the words out the way I wanted to, and that they’re well-received.

    Sekanblogger, it’s a compulsion of mine – I have to understand why things happen, even inexplicable things like this murder. (And I’m not Tommy – I am the semiregular DC-based contributor, Alex Villanueva. 🙂 )

  6. Generation Y at its finest.

    Thanks for putting some of my own thoughts I had racing upstairs into something I could actually say “yeah….thats what Im feeling.”

    You are really good at that, Alex.

    You have great empathy.

  7. The “other”?? Perhaps you should write sci-fi. The murderer had an ideology diametrically opposed to those he chose to harm. Political, religious, cultural – it makes no difference which instructed his actions, but to cast the event as the result of some atavistic impulse in reaction to the “other” is intellectually lazy.

    It is quite sad that you reduce human beings to mindless captives of their impulses and fears. Most people invest considerable thought and passion into their various convictions and then choose to act on them, benign or otherwise. But they do so of their own free will and with conscious intent – or are those concepts that the, so-called, ‘y’ generation are unfamiliar with.

    But if you insist on resorting to this juvenile analysis, do please recognize that in your world, conservatives are the “other”. Or do you actually believe you have “transcended”?

  8. Hey, check out the rules. We’re supposed to be buddies at a bar. Have a shot of tequila.

  9. I do write sci-fi. But it’s not very good.

    And I do recognize that to me, conservatives are Other, to a point. (I am not one of the moonbatty PETA-loving supercommunists, fyi.) And I deal with it, and I listen to those I don”t understand, and those I disagree with, and I try to learn why they are how they are. Did I say it’s the only impulse? No. But fear, whether we recognize it or not, plays a large part in our decisions. We’re selfish creatures. We look out for number one. And fear is a healthy evolutionary impulse when confronted with something outside our realm of knowledge or understanding. (And to imply that I have no understanding of intent or free will simply because I’m younger than you is itself intellectually lazy.) Our crocodile brains can, and do, overtake our higher processes. Or are murder and rape human-exclusive? (Do you believe you’ve ‘transcended’ biology?)

    And frankly, half the time I don’t see any reason why human beings are any better or worse than the animals we’re supposedly superior to. Except for indoor plumbing and the Tivo, of course. 🙂 Hell, I know cats who are better people than some of my classmates.

  10. OK, first, I want to read some sci-fi (as long as it isn’t creepy “slashfic”). Second, I think your critic misread your piece. I don’t see any of what he said actually in your story.

    RSassy, Alex’s youth has a lot to do with why I asked her to write for this site. Hers is a point of view that I think has value because of her wit, intelligence, and youth. Perhaps you reacted to it so strongly because her youth is “Other” to you.

    I don’t see any of the conclusions you ascribe to her, either. She was making a broad observation about human nature, not a cause-and-effect argument for this crime. Von Brunn’s fear of the “Other” obviously didn’t ambush him all at once on Wednesday. It grew in him for 89 years and guided him to that moment.

    Alex is a really good sport about conversing with critics, so do stick around, but try and be a little more respectful.

  11. Alex, 10-4. I will check you out.
    I must admit that I did not pay enough attention to the author.

    You know, I’d love to understand. I still try from time to time.
    And I always try to befriend people, even those nasty conservatives…..
    But you know what, no matter how hard I try to love everybody, some people are just incurable assholes.


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