Is Racism To Blame For The Angry Discourse In America?

The question remains: How do we deal with the mounting anger in America before it's too late and we have another national tragedy on our hands and souls? Are we mature enough as a country to have an honest discourse on the roots of anger in America today?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"It's important to realize that I was actually black before the election."

The discourse in America is heating up. We are becoming a nation of Howard Beales' "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore". What is at the bottom of all this anger?
And what are we to do about it?

Angry outbursts are becoming commonplace in our culture these days. No longer confined to frustrated or impatient motorists' "road rage", public displays of anger have taken on a new and troubling tone in recent weeks.

Angry town hall protesters carry signs portraying President Obama as Curious George, an African witch doctor, or The Joker from Batman. The latest iteration of placards tout "Bury Obamacare with Ted Kennedy" and accuse the Obama administration of being communist, socialist, or aligned with Hitler.

Glenn Beck has become the new poster child for the angry American crowd. He's on the cover of this week's Time magazine with an article by David Von Drehle, Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?"

Answer? Yes. Unencumbered by factual information, Beck is elevating the level of rhetoric
to a point where the pot is boiling and set to spill over. With people bringing guns and automatic weapons to town hall rallies, the handwriting is on the wall. Beck, and others who profit from this polarization, is inciting fear among those on the right, who are being persuaded to believe their patriotic duty is to "water the tree of liberty" by spilling the blood of those whose views differ from theirs. This cannot possibly have a good outcome.

Memories of Harvey Milk and George Moscone come to mind. Nancy Pelosi had a mini-meltdown last week, reflecting upon events that led to their assassinations and called upon all Americans to be mindful of the tone they're setting for the whole.

The problem is, those who would "water the tree of liberty" feel justified in this new tone. For them, this is a call to defend their country from being taken over by a president they deem not qualified to lead them. The "birthers" movement questions Obama's citizenship. What is all this "birther" rhetoric code for?

President Carter stepped into this fray by calling it "racism". President Clinton disagrees and thinks the angry protesters "just don't want health care". President Obama would rather not get into it and get distracted from his legislative agenda. He knows it's a no-win situation for him to go down this road.

Personally, I tend to agree with President Carter. While certainly not all the anger being publicly vented today can be tied to racism, I believe there is an underlying current of it smoldering beneath the public discourse and no one dares to mention the pink elephant in the room. Carter was never afraid to speak his mind, which probably cost him a second term as president.

Remember Carter's famous "malaise" speech in 1979? At the time, the national discourse was focused on the energy crisis, but Carter looked to uncover a deeper cause for what he saw as the nation's inability to come together to solve its problems. He called a 10-day summit at Camp David and gathered together leaders from business, education, labor, religion, local government and private citizens and then he listened to their input.

Here are some excerpts from his speech, delivered 30 years ago. The message is still very relevant, perhaps even more so, today:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our Nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.

He could have been speaking about today's healthcare problems or the need to address climate change or developing renewable sources of energy. The speech was not well received. Critics seized upon it as a sign of weakness. The American people did not want to face up to the nation's crisis of confidence and dark underbelly of fear. But that did not deter President Carter from saying what needed to be said then, just as he has voiced his opinion about "racism being involved" in the national debate today. He has not been one to shy away from speaking truth to power.

Perhaps its power, the loss of it, or the attempt to wield it, coupled with lingering vestiges of racism that lies at the true source of all the anger in America today. The mixture of power and race issues make for a mighty cauldron of seething anger by those who deem themselves not in control of the debate. Power concentrated in the hands of a black man must be feared, thus, images of an African witch doctor tap into the unconscious psyches of many white people, long conditioned to fear and mistrust those who don't look like them. Or as Sarah Palin reminded voters last fall, "he's not like us". Code for racism? You decide.

Any semblance of civility in our public discourse today has gone by the wayside. The gloves are off and we appear to be headed for civil combat. Death threats against the current president are up 400% over those of the previous president, whose popularity was among the lowest in presidential history. While George Bush suffered the slings and arrows of criticism from his political opponents, no one ever publicly called for his death (remember shouts of "kill him" at John McCain and Sarah Palin's town hall meetings?) or disrespected the office of the presidency by calling him a "liar" before a joint session of congress.

The question remains: How do we deal with the mounting anger in America before it's too late and we have another national tragedy on our hands and souls? Are we mature enough as a country to have an honest discourse on the roots of anger in America today?

Two thoughts on where to begin::

1) Call a national summit on non-violence and anger management. Like President Carter, bring together citizens and leaders from all sectors of American life to discuss issues of anger in America and how to manage them. Elevate the national tone from one of emphasizing our differences to one of seeking common ground and building a platform for moving forward together as a nation. We cannot hope to succeed, no matter which party is in power, if our intent is for either side to fail. In spite of the heated rhetoric, we are all still Americans, a fact which often gets lost in the noise of politics.

2) Encourage the teaching of non-violent communication skills in our schools and amongst the citizenry. Learn how to articulate our fears and concerns without elevating the rhetoric. We currently do not know how to express differences while maintaining respect and civility for each other.

Towards these ends, The Center For Non-Violent Communication (CNVC) is sponsoring an International Day of Empathic Action (IDEA) on Oct. 2, 2009. This date coincides with the U.N.'s International Day for Non-Violence and is Mahatma's Gandhi's birthday. The day also honors Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of the NVC movement. The intention behind IDEA is:

In every state, in every country, on every continent, people will gather in empathic listening, connecting, and action so that we may see all beings integrate suffering to become free, fully alive, and resolve differences peacefully.

International Day for Empathic Action (IDEA) Events and Activities will take place all over the world aware of each other to create unity, community, and a world-wide understanding of empathy.

For ideas on how to participate in empathic activities on Oct 2nd, please visit the website.

"Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, help us hear the word "no" without taking it as a rejection, revive a lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence. " - Marshall B. Rosenberg

We need to learn how to get beyond anger and vitriol. Your thoughts matter. Your input matters. Our collective intention matters. We each need to care enough to become part of the solution. Let us know what you think about how to address this national concern. Please feel free to comment below and/or drop by my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul and weigh in.

Please help spread the word beyond this single column by posting this to your Facebook page, Buzzing and Digging this article. And thanks so much for being part of this vibrant reader community.

Blessings on the path............

Before You Go