For the most part, I have ignored the fringe group turned mainstream antics of the so-called Tea Party protestors, considering them more an embarrassment and nuisance than someone to be taken seriously. I've ignored them, that is, until this past weekend when a benign difference in ideology turned into an angry mob of racial slurs, homophobic rants and excessive mouth phlegm as President Obama and congress set out to make history with the health care reform bill. I couldn't ignore it any longer. I know firsthand the consequences of racism and am appalled such a lack of respect for our American lawmakers occurred, reminding me of an incident from my own childhood and how far I've come, and how far all of us have yet to go.
It was the summer of 1980, when I was eleven years old, a friend of mine and I decided to spend a day at the swimming pool of my neighborhood hotel. As we walked toward the pool we noticed a crowd of black children staring into the water at the deep end. When we got to them one of us asked what they were looking at and a little girl pointed into the water and said, "He's been down there a long time." We looked to where she was pointing and saw a little boy, no more than eight or nine, lying on the bottom of the pool. We immediately jumped in and pulled him out while one of the children ran to get an adult. We laid the boy on the concrete along the pool and I felt for a pulse. It was faint, but still there, and my friend and a man who ran to the pool began CPR on him. As I watched frozen in fear, knowing they were doing it wrong, thinking I should move my friend out of the way, tilt the child's head back to open the air passage and do the mouth to mouth myself because I was the only one there who really knew how, a voice in my head screamed, "You don't kiss a black boy. You don't kiss a black boy."
So I said nothing, did nothing, and watched him slowly die. Yes, I was only a kid in a scary situation, but I knew even then it was the color of his skin that kept me paralyzed, and I've felt the shame and remorse ever since. Could I have saved him? I don't know. I don't know if it was already too late. All I know is I didn't even try, and in that moment I knew, "You don't kiss a black boy," was wrong. It was all wrong, everything I had been taught, the bigotry, the intolerance, the superiority was just wrong. My profound moment came at a heavy price I wish for no one, because at eleven years old innocence shouldn't be shattered by confronting racism, even when it is within one's self. The racism shouldn't have existed at all.
I've lived my entire life in the South, and I've experienced people of such incredible tolerance and generosity and love. True Christians, who give so much while asking for nothing in return. These are God loving, selfless people of compassion and hope who live what they preach.
In my life, I've also experienced people of such vile hate, bigotry and intolerance I wonder how it is most of them vehemently claim to be Christians. How do they hold their heads up in church every week?
As I got older I developed a basic philosophy about race: Being racist makes absolutely no sense. It is completely illogical. Not only does it defy basic Christian principles, for those who really care about that, but there are just way too many white people in this world I sincerely dislike, for reasons that have nothing to do with the color of their skin. So why would I dislike someone for a feature God or whatever gave them that is beyond their control, when they're likable for so many reasons?
Which brings us to the racial and homophobic epithets hurled at lawmakers on Saturday, March 20, 2010, in Washington D.C., the place of the Tea Party protest against, of all the idiotic things, health care reform legislation. What is it about this topic that has these people so scared and angry? Socialism? Really? Every democratically elected industrialized country in the world, including ours, has government-sponsored health care, and so far they haven't turned into the Karl Marx utopia these people are so afraid of. I think after several decades it's safe to say they never will. Remember Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, military veterans, Congress? I mean, come on, this bill doesn't even have a public option to force competition on private insurance, much less a Medicare for all universal plan.
Though I've been asking this question for a while now, the real reason for the anger reared its ugly head on the last day as one gay, one Muslim and two black Congressmen walked towards their votes on one of the most historic legislative acts of their careers. Protestors screamed the N-word, others screamed words offensive to homosexuals, and one brazen and distinctly irrational protestor spit on one of them. This is America's Tea Party, fueled by the right-wing media, and supported by Republican politicians, which begs the question, "Is this really such a surprise?"
The right-wing media has been stoking this fire for months, preying on their fear, appealing to their prejudices and telling them to "take back our country!" with crazy, irrational rhetoric or guns, if necessary. When the Tea Party people are encouraged to take guns to presidential events and carry signs with assassination threats to our Congress and our president, are we really all that surprised by this, the moment they realize they've lost? The more Democrats, and especially President Obama, succeed, the more irrational Tea Party protestors will become.
Because this Tea Party group, which has taken over conservative politics, has no sense of humility, no concept of the Constitution or the legislative process, and no flexibility in their ideology, my fear is this is just the beginning. At some point we'll all be shocked because the violence gets worse, and as that eleven year old girl, raised in ignorance and fear, learned the hard way, someone could end up dead.