Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Politics and enslavement by myth

Couple of weeks ago, I watched a series of Monticello Foundation videos that were shot during a Sept. 17 public summit at Thomas Jefferson's home entitled "Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America." You can find the series here.

Panelists included historians Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Annette Gordon Reed, activist Marian Wright Edelman and several others, both black and white.

One theme that emerged during the summit that I found especially interesting involved the role that the myth of white racial superiority, deeply embedded in American history, continues to play in our still sometimes rocky quest for national harmony.

You see examples of that "embededness" everywhere. On Monday, for example, we observed Columbus Day, a national holiday built on the premise that a white man "discovered" the Americas when, in fact, these continents were fully occupied by native peoples --- of color --- at the time.

The myth of white superiority has held firm in America until quite recently, in historic terms, and one of the panelists suggested that the race-based conflicts we still see around us now and then are tied to the fact that the myth has been discredited and is, in fact, dying.

The presidency of Barack Obama has been a major blow to the white supremacy myth, for example; the extreme reaction against Obama and his family by some whites, a major sign that those heavily invested in racism to shore up their own fragile self-identities are angry and frightened.

This fear and anger has spilled over into the current campaign season as Mr. Trump works to translate anxiety among white people about black people and brown people into votes.


Although the Monticello panelists limited their discussion to issues of race, it seems to me that the current campaign illuminates the death throes of other myths, too.

One of those myths certainly involves the theory that males are best suited or ordained by some mythic god for leadership roles. The impending death of that myth helps to account in part for the  extreme fear and loathing for Secretary Clinton expressed by some; far more fear and loathing than genuine differences about policy and philosophy should generate.

Then there are the myths prevalent among some Christians whose self-worth rests on conviction that they have cornered the market on godliness --- hence the fear and loathing for those who adhere to other faiths, are more progressive in a Christian context or claim no faith at all.


Another myth, also dying now, involves the perceived superiority of heterosexual people. The movement to extend equal rights, including marriage equality, to LGBTQ people, has spooked many whose self-worth --- even religion --- is over invested in heterosexual gender identity. These fearful people, enslaved by their own mythology, are acting out in this ugly and divisive campaign, too.

The little logo at the top of this post represents yesterday's National Coming Out Day, an observance that began during 1988 on the Oct. 11 anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights. It is predicated on the idea, accurate as it turns out, that visibility is the most basic and effective kind of activism.

There are hazards involved in coming out, especially for youngsters born into homes headed by religious conservatives and others facing real concerns about their own safety.  And no one should try to shame those who remain closeted into opening that door or force the closet doors of people who are unwilling to open them themselves.

But it is nececessary that all the myths that have emerged in this campaign be swept into history's dustbin. And for those of us who are LGBTQ, coming out is one way to assist in that process.

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