To instruct the ignorant

Diversity training for city employees: Yes, apparently this is a controversial subject. But I can only comment on my own experience with the process of enlightenment…

It’s unfortunate, but since (1) we have no decent American history education in this country, and (2) people in parts of upstate New York still do grow up in areas where there is not a large black population, it is indeed possible that a young white guy — perhaps thinking only of cowboys and outlaws — could really not realize the connotation of a hangman’s noose in the presence of a black co-worker. It is odd in this day and age, but I think possible. I’m in my 30’s and I grew up in a time and place when a noose was not talked about as a racially charged symbol, even though I knew something of what lynchings were. (Then again, incidents involving nooses were not very much in the news when I was growing up – and of course the news tells us everything we need to know about reality.) However, that’s because I was ignorant of the fact that they were being deliberately used by some people as gestures of intimidation toward other people — all along — even while I remained blissfully ignorant.

In other words, the fact that it is a symbol of intimidation isn’t “something new” — it’s my knowledge of it (when I became conscious of it maybe about 10 years ago) that was “something new.” And gosh, don’t we hate learning new things and admitting we didn’t know them?

But ignorance, misunderstanding or growing up sheltered doesn’t change the fact that your neighbor’s feeling threatened or hurt is something real to deal with. (This is something that many Syracusans apparently still don’t think about Indian sports mascots, either. You know, if something bothers your neighbor, and you want to maintain a good relationship with your neighbor, and it’s not something that’s going to kill you to stop doing… why not just listen to your neighbor’s feelings, take his feelings seriously and… stop doing it?)

From my position on the outside of the situation, knowing only what I read in the papers about the first incident (which may or may not have been true ignorance), I had hoped that something like this would be an opportunity for instructing the ignorant, since ignorance in and of itself is not a crime. (In the Catholic tradition, instructing the ignorant is a work of mercy…)

But then, when you have an incident that is truly, unambiguously malicious, like the second one where a noose was put in someone’s locker, and yet you still have the same peanut gallery trotting out the same old tired “reasoning” about why it “shouldn’t” be a big deal… well, that ship has sailed, and the community is a little farther away from a hopeful resolution based on instructing the ignorant and moving forward together as neighbors.

And it’s depressing to think about that, but let’s hope it turns out better.

One thought on “To instruct the ignorant

  1. Brian Cubbison

    I just think it was interesting that on the day of the story about the noose found in someone’s locker, there was a story in the CNY section of The Post-Standard about Rod Serling’s attempt to do a TV show in the ’50s about the lynching of Emmett Till.

    I’m never sure about links in comments, but here’s that story.

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