The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
It didn’t take long after the news broke about a militia taking over a government compound for my Facebook Newsfeed to light up with people calling BS on the stark differences in how this situation is being covered (or not covered) by media.
Here are some things to think about:
This group is being described as a militia. They believe they are doing the work of God and have taken over a government area.
When groups of middle eastern descent are described as the one above, we call them “radicalized extremists.”
But this militia is not of Middle Eastern descent. They’re white farmers. They’re Christians. They remind us of our crazy Uncle So And So. They are familiar and, therefore, are a militia.
We, as a society, are geared toward white men (Don’t even try to deny it. Theirs is the default perspective of western history, religion, politics for the last 500 years. We can’t change it til we own it). Because we think we know white guys so well, a militia in Oregon doesn’t seem so scary.
Farmers with rifles talking about patriotism and freedom. Yeah, we know those guys.
But here’s the thing to remember: in Saudia Arabia, Osama bin Ladin was once someone’s crazy uncle.
Radicalized extremists are the same the world ’round. But these guys are our radicalized extremists. We know what to expect, so it’s no big deal.
But here’s the problem for all of us who are still relatively offended by the term “white privilege;” when we don’t respond to the white guys with guns the same way we would respond to minorities with guns, we’re displaying our privilege for the world to see.
This isn’t a topic I normally write about, but race relations have become the topic of conversation in our culture the last couple of years. I was once one of those idealistic “progressives” who believed wholeheartedly that we were a post-racist culture. One of those “I have black friends and my sister is black!” sort of defenders of white openmindedness. The continued popularity of Donald Trump’s hate-fueled campaign confirms that we are not post-racism at all.
And so the question remains, “What should we do?” I believe the answer lies in how you identify we.
We as believers must acknowledge the role that fear of the unknown plays in our prejudices and convictions. Whether that unknown is another race, culture, or religion, simply admitting we don’t know is genuinely the first step to learning about others. It’s tough to learn about black America when you still steadfastly hold to the line “There’s only one America!” To say that is to deny the rich heritage of those who have come together to make America.
This country was never about eradicating other cultures for the sake of a new one. This country was founded on the exact opposite premise; that people should be able to bring their beliefs and their dreams with them in order to live them out freely. Those who say coming to America means converting to Christianity and speaking only English have missed the beauty of the Grand Experiement.
So this event brings me back to a belief I’ve firmly held for years; the way to combat fear is to know. If you’re fearful of Muslims, get to know a few. If you struggle with showing compassion to the LGBT community, be vulnerable and ask a gay co-worker if you could ask them some questions. If you are afraid of the gun toting religious “patriots” currently committing treason in Oregon, peruse some Facebook pages and read up on what they stand for.
Demonstrate empathy. Give people the benefit of the doubt. And be consistent. Not all black protestors are thugs and not all thugs are black protestors. Not all Muslims are radicalized extremists and not all radicalized extremists are Muslims. Do a little less stereotyping and take the time to get to know people and their stories on an individual basis.
How do we loosen the grip that fear currently holds on our nation? Simply put, know and be known.