THE BLOG

Fear and Loathing in Tennessee, Arizona and All Points North and South

06/08/2010 03:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Pick a fear, any fear. Just like a card trick, the one selected in your mind will be chosen by a master magician whose expert sleight of hand impinges your ability to see through the illusion.

Are you afraid of dark skinned people whose native language is something other than English? Then by all means, pick the Immigration card. If you don't look closely, you may be hypnotized just enough to view an entire group of people through a wide-angle lens. This distorted perspective allows you to categorize and demonize immigrants as lawless, disrespectful and unworthy of human respect and dignity -- whether legal or illegal.

As illustrated in a recent Huff post Mark Olmsted, "the old racism is the new fearism".

Although the state of Arizona showed initial signs of falling under a spell of intolerance, it seems the city of Tucson has joined a lawsuit by one of its police officers to block Arizona's immigration enforcement law. The suit alleges that the new law violates numerous constitutional rights and could hinder some police investigations, and violates federal law because Tucson police and the city have no authority to perform immigration duties.

This hardly addresses the more profound fears at play in Arizona, but at least it demonstrates that the entire state is not spellbound.

What about homophobia? As we have seen recently, this card has been played by some of the loudest and most ardent objectors to gays and lesbians -- including George Rekers, a married Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a passion for "curing" homosexuality who was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport.

As it turns out, Rekers hired the young man from Rentboy.com -- a website which requires visitors to vouch for their age due to the explicit graphic sexual content.

In 1982, Rekers published Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality in which Rekers scares his readers with prophecies of doomed fates due to homosexual proclivities. Was he perhaps doing research for his next book?

What Rekers' own demise illustrates -- as well as the examples of many ardent anti-gay activists, religious figures, politicians (including former Senator Larry Craig and Ted Haggard) -- is what these people fear most in themselves is projected outward in the form of vilification of others.

Although not necessarily a sophisticated demonstration of slight of hand, for a time, the illusion of righteousness is maintained through vehement protestation and distracts attention from the real threat: the sinister nature of our own fear.

And then there is the superiority card. Recently in Nashville TN there have been more subtle signs of arrogance disguised as pride as it relates to the recent floods. In spite of national media attention, Ray Moon wondered why the most costly non-hurricane disaster in the U.S. history is "going completely un-touched by the news media" and Obama. Moon asks: "Is it because Nashville residents aren't raping, murdering, looting, robbing and burning down their own community"?

He then exposes the underbelly of his assertions -- however misguided -- by asking "is it because they aren't throwing their arms up like dependent victims and waiting for government to solve all their problems for them?"

Apart from asserting what seems to be a high level of hostility pointed at "dependent victims" i.e. African Americans who were disproportionately affected by Katrina, the point of Moon's rant is obvious.

Although the damage is widespread, devastating and life altering for many, the death toll in Tennessee amounted to approximately 34, while Katrina related deaths in New Orleans were reported as totally 1,833. Where the estimated damage in Nashville currently is in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion, Katrina was over 100 billion. And as many neighborhoods as have been affected in Nashville, there is no close equivalent population to those in the 9th ward, where 10,000 people were displaced and many of them forced to move out of state.

Days after the flood, a video was circulating widely on the Internet called "Expressions by Misti" which so far has been viewed by 1,367,802 people. It is a photo essay chronicling the devastation and moments of bravery, grief and joy -- all set to the Beatles song "Here comes the Sun." Across the city banners of pride sprouted up claiming "We Are Nashville" as if before the Nashville was bereft of identity.

But what is jarring and disturbing about the video (and the slogan) was the not-so-subtle comparisons embedded in between the images. Rather than simply lifting up Nashvillians, the texts slides in between images boasted about how Nashvillians were special because we pulled together, and that "we didn't loot" or feign helplessness.

Again, the allusion -- and the illusion -- suggests that "we are not like those folks in New Orleans". Also noteworthy was the fact that in spite of the massive number of minority and immigrant communities affected by the floods, there few images -- if any -- reflecting these severely hit neighborhoods.

It is admirable that Nashville communities rallied together in artfully organized ways, but as far as boasting that no looting occurred -- this is simply incorrect. Numerous flood victims from North Nashville, South Nashville, East Nashville and central experienced looting -- even though it did not make headlines.

There is nothing wrong with feeling good about the solidarity of a community befallen by tragedy but let's be honest: both cities endured major devastation and the people demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion.

Upon careful examination of the fears often at the root of our veiled attacks, the truth is, We Are Nashville just as much as We Are New Orleans and yes, even Arizona.