When I was a child and first learned of the atrocities humans inflict upon each other I felt traumatized. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with intellectual parents, so tolerance and acceptance had always been a part of my conditioning. I was also raised Catholic, and what I personally understood from my countless Sundays at church were the lessons of love that Jesus exemplified. As my teachings in school morphed from "what color is an apple" to world history lessons I was horrified to learn of genocide and slavery. My childmind could not wrap my head around one fundamental question. Why all the hate?
In the 5th grade we all watched the the mini series Eyes on the Prize which is a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement. Sitting among my black classmates it was unfathomable to think that just 40 years prior we wouldn't have been in the same school, or playing at the same playground. Watching the policemen take fire hoses to women and children and beating these peaceful protesters are images that I will never get out of my head. I remember crying uncontrollably, not understanding how or why people would treat people like that.
To help explain the history of race relations we also watched the series Roots, about the slave trade in this country. To comprehend that American History for my black friends traced back to their being slaves was almost too much to process. I felt so ashamed and guilty for what white people had done. This looming question of not only why did this happen haunted my soul, but also how could people have let it happen?
I would fantasize that if I were living in that time I would have been different. I would have figured out how to have gone against this oppressive and disturbing system. Needless to say when reading Anne Frank and learning about the Holocaust I had the same reaction. I would have helped. When I was exposed to narratives about the massive genocide of Native Americans I would picture myself being different. Fighting along with them, not against them. I wanted to believe that if I had been alive for all those moments I would have been on the other side of history.
As I got into high school I still was extremely confused to how all of these things could have happened. The explanations I was given left a filthy taste in my mouth. For slavery it was simplified rhetoric. "Well, people allowed this because they didn't understand that black people were actually people. The Constitution said they considered 3/5 of a person, so that is what people thought." When I would question why the Americans took so long to interfere with the Holocaust it was because "they didn't know what was going on. As soon as the U.S. found out they went to help." I don't even think anyone even bothered clarifying what happened with Native Americans.
Embarrassingly, it wasn't until college when I finally researched these questions myself and discovered the economics behind all these horrors; the money to be made, the greed, the financial corruption. All these questions about morality and human compassion were suddenly uncovered. The people in power, the educated, the elite, they weren't hating for the sake of hate, they were making money. There was a business behind the bigotry. This culture was then passed down to the ignorant citizens who developed a personal vendetta to support the hate and violence. The people became the mouthpiece for an agenda they had no true understanding of. The hate was contagious and atrocious for our collective memories, but at least there was a deliberate schema behind it.
Despite the fact that I would never justify the hate, I could wrap my head around such an explanation of the cause. And I may or may not be right about my theories concerning the nurturing of hate by the power elites from on high. But now my understanding has reached a new level of response, partly because I am now a parent. It has to do with a specific event in contemporary America. With the blatant hate that is currently being manifested towards gay people there is no Wizard of Oz making money behind the curtain. This hate is hate for the sake of hate. I try and picture how parents explain to their children why eating Chick-Fil-A is a great opportunity to brand your hate, and I dry heave at the thought. The justification of homophobia through religion makes me want to beg these people to return to their scriptures and internalize the lessons of Jesus. "Love thy Enemy." That simple message is as clear as day, and leaves no room for hate.
When I see that politicians, public representatives of this country, are tweeting pictures of themselves slathered in Chick-Fil-A as a statement against gay marriage I am ashamed to be an American. This is our time in history to be a part of the dissent, not the oppression. I will not have my daughter, now a two-year-old, ask me in 10 years how I stood by and did nothing. In fact, she has a book called Freckle Face Strawberry where one of the main characters has two mommies and all my daughter had to say about that is "How lucky! He has two mommies!" It is time we stop trying to close the minds of our children and learn from them how to open our hearts.
Follow Toni Nagy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonibolognamind