I see their faces

From time to time, horrifying images from the Holocaust death camps pass before my eyes, prompting me to consider the magnitude of the unfathomable cruelty inflicted on an entire race of living, breathing people… grandparents, children… young people… newlyweds… babies.

BABIES.

If I consider that moment in history long enough, it sucks the oxygen right from me. I don’t have the cruelty gene in me. I am unable to force my brain to even go there. I am intrinsically unable to inflict pain or violence on a completely innocent person. Sometimes as I consider what some humans have done to other humans, I seriously wonder if I’m simply not of the same species. Or maybe they’re not.

I was not yet born during World War II, so all of the images and stories from it are in shaded gray photographs and film clips… something that, while growing up, was a thing that happened a long time ago and shall never happen again. And of course, I grew up, and discovered that bigotry, racism and cruelty continue to flow through the collective psyche of our pathetically flawed species like a current of toxic waste.

I was watching some documentary awhile back, forget which one exactly, in which there was a video clip scanning past a group of starving, suffering Jewish women in a concentration camp… their eyes, pleading and pain-stricken… wrenching to look at. But not as painful as the eyes that held nothing at all anymore. Just dull resignation, like candle wicks gone cold. If you don’t convulse in compassion when you see such suffering… again, we are not of the same species.

And then… I suddenly imagined the faces of my Jewish friends in that clip… Sunny or Amy or Beatrice or Sivan or Beth or, or, or… and it was like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. Putting the faces of actual beloved women I know, women who have enhanced my life in so many immeasurable ways… imagining that every one of those faces touched other lives in the same way. I can’t even bear it.

The shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue yesterday again prompted me to think of my friends’ faces, male and female, and how any one of those people could have been them, and despair wells in my heart. Putting a personal face on these tragedies ratchets up your empathy. Try it. Think of your own Jewish friends behind hogwire in a death camp or being herded in for a “shower,” or simply attending a family religious ceremony peacefully in their house of worship and then being gunned down by a racist lunatic… that’ll make it sting a little more.

I was pondering all that this morning, thinking of my Jewish friends and how I’d feel if something happened to them, and then it hit me… thinking of familiar faces as victims was easy. But there’s another side to that coin. What about the faces of the perpetrators? Those who shout (or silently think but won’t speak the words) “All Jews Must Die!” Or all Blacks. Or all Liberals. Or, or, or… what if I insert the faces of people I know who hold racist views into the role of Nazi or mass shooter? That’s a whole nuther kind of sting.

Try it. Insert the face of the most racist person you know onto the Pittsburg shooter. You know who they are. They routinely spout racist, hateful things, parrot what they hear on Right Wing TV and radio; marginalize those they irrationally despise as the “other.” Their “other enemy.” The one who steals what they feel they’re entitled to, simply by virtue of the color of their skin or the symbol of their church.

I imagine people I know throwing the switch on the showers or firing their machine guns at emaciated, naked men standing on the precipice of a mass grave in a concentration camp… and laughing. Let me tell you, it’s a mind fuck. Stopping to consider that the murderers and torturers and mass shooters all have familiar faces too, to someone.

There’s the more difficult task. Putting a human face (rather than a monster’s) on those who hate and those who kill, and realizing that they’re around us too. I know people like that. But I don’t view them as friends. I can tolerate a great many things, but I will not tolerate a racist.

I’m not a violent person by nature. I don’t believe in physically lashing out to solve differences. However, words are also weapons. What happened in Pittsburgh has renewed my resolve. I will stab a verbal machete into hateful, divisive words. Not into the people saying them. Just their words, their bigotries, their actions. Stab a machete through those. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, words are weapons. Very powerful ones. But the larger weapon is silence. If you aren’t brave enough to slash hatred with words, at least don’t tolerate it. Walk away from hateful people. Shun them. Cut them out of your life. Let them know it’s not OK and you refuse to tolerate it. Don’t participate in enabling their poisoned souls. If you think about it, shunning a racist is an act of kindness, because silence equals endorsement. It assists that person in remaining psychologically toxic.

Silence. Stab a machete through that. If you have to start there, then start there. A small start is better than no start at all.

“Silence must die.”

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Megyn Kelly, we hardly knew ye

Photo by Vulture.com.

I know when I say that I’m feeling sorry for Megyn Kelly, it’ll have the same reaction as farting in a crowded room. People will wrinkle their noses and get as far away as possible. Well, hold your nose, because I do.

Kelly is one of NBC’s more recent news anchors, with her own block of the Today show at 9 a.m., and what made her actually interesting is that she’s a Fox “News” transplant. She arrived on the Blue side of television after departing from Fox, maybe after an epiphany that the truthfulness of most everything spoken on that network, with the possible exception of the weather, was suspect. Somewhere along the line — maybe after Donald Trump so famously referred to her as “bleeding from her wherever” after she grilled him mercilessly during a presidential debate regarding his blatant misogyny — Megyn had to choose between her integrity and her paycheck.

Brava! You chose well, Megyn!

That said, at first, that was an awfully hard Left turn for me to navigate. I had to set down my precious disdain for anything and everything associated with Fox “News” and give Megyn a chance. She was walking away from the Dark Side, and in my mind, that deserved such a chance because maybe she is setting an example. Others on the Radical Right may follow her lead. Megyn was a walking talking crossover vehicle for Fox viewers realizing they needed to hightail it to somewhere sane. Or maybe they were just tired of being assholes. Whatever the reason, Megyn pointed out the exit a door for those folks.

I remained skeptical of course, because Megyn had been hanging out with the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but she seemed to be reasonably human after all, unlike her former harpy co-workers. By all accounts, Megyn — with a reputation for being fearless and articulate — was doing just fine at NBC. She was learning to adapt to a liberal atmosphere. She was gaining a new audience and siphoning away some of Fox’s. And then, yesterday… she face-planted.

Oh, Megyn, Megyn… how is it possible that anyone your age, with a background in journalism, (which implies that you know how to check facts and do research) doesn’t understand the inherent racism of blackface? Blackface was designed to ridicule an entire race, one that has experienced (and still experiences) horrific treatment and , sadly, ongoing racism? You’re a smart gal… but this was your “I didn’t know Chicken of the Sea wasn’t chicken!” moment. We’re left slack-jawed in amazement that anyone could be that dense.

But there it was.

“It’s not chicken???”

And, like a toddler asking completely inappropriate questions at the most awkward moment, Megyn continued and asked why blackface was racist if it’s Halloween and you’re dressing up like a character, citing a TV personality who dressed up like Diana Ross and wore dark makeup. Megyn asked, “Why is that wrong? Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?”

Ummm… ummm… how to put this in a way that even a clueless innocent might understand…  Because not everyone feels the same way about everything, and what is not painful for you is very painful for someone else, and therefore, in civilized society, we don’t do things that hurt other people.

Maybe that’s a start… and then hand Megyn a U.S. history book and send her to her room and tell her she can’t come out until she’s read the whole thing, and oh yes, there will be a pop quiz.

I watched Megyn stumble deeper and deeper into the mud of her own making in that segment, while her guests squirmed uncomfortably, trying to explain how blackface, even on Halloween, is offensive. It was one of those moments where you want to grab someone by the back of the neck and walk them away and hiss in her ear, “Just stop talking!!!”

The backlash from this incident was swift and harsh. Did she have it coming? Oh, yeah. We must hold people — particularly those in positions of power —  accountable. The following morning, a visibly angered Al Roker, the usually jovial weatherman for the Today show, said that although Megyn apologized to her staff, audience and co-workers, she owed a larger apology to all of People of Color for saying something so offensive. Roker was spot on. She deserved to get the stink-eye in the company cafeteria for a good long time. But Megyn listened, and quickly issued what seemed like a heartfelt apology and, more important, she finally “got it” — blackface is just completely offensive, in all situations. Even on Halloween. She learned something, dammit! But that wasn’t enough for NBC. By the end of the next day, Oct. 24, the news was out that Megyn was being canned by NBC.

NBC… I get WHY you made that decision, because you must be pristinely PC, however, jettisoning Megyn wasn’t a very well-considered move. Given, Megyn revealed that she has some astounding blind spots in her understanding of U.S. history and racism. However, if you watch the clip, she seems to be genuinely trying to understand. She didn’t seem mean or intentionally hurtful  — just utterly clueless.

It’s not chicken. It’s tuna. They called it Chicken of the Sea to get squeamish people in the 1950s to try canned fish, and probably also to play on the “tastes like chicken” explanation for anything that tastes dicey. And the mermaid on the logo… also not chicken. There are no chickens in the sea. It’s tuna. TUNA. OK? 

I know, Megyn…

Mind.

BLOWN.

So, let’s just go with the theory that somehow, Megyn never learned the truth about blackface in all these years. She existed in the Fox “News” echo chamber, and remained completely clueless… Blithely going through life hurting and offending people without ever realizing it. But here’s the thing… stop and consider how many other essentially kind but grotesquely clueless Americans there are out there? Megyn represents an uncomfortably large portion of the population that’s just as clueless, and harbors the exact same questions. But at least Megyn asked. She was trying to understand. And then, holy cow, did she get a heaping helping of understanding from every direction. Oh, she “gets it” now.

And got canned anyway.

That’s troubling for other potential Fox crossovers, who are beginning to have an inkling that what they’re hearing isn’t quite accurate. Like Megyn, it’s as if they’ve been raised by wolves and have no idea how to behave like a human. But they’re trying to understand. They want to ask questions. But having seen Megyn excoriated for her clumsy attempt to gain understanding, and may think instead… “Hmmm… if I ask a question, I’ll get my head chopped off too. Think I’ll stay in the Fox hole where it’s safe.” And just like that, we prevented more folks from seeking truth. Remaining ignorant is less painful than ridicule.

Well, we didn’t. NBC, this one’s on you. You botched a truly teachable moment. One that could have opened up a conversation and raised awareness and understanding. But, in a knee-jerk reaction, you didn’t look outside your own interests and ratings to recognize that Megyn blundered into the tip of an ugly racist iceberg. You had your chance to bust it up, and by firing Megyn, you are helping it to continue drifting along. You should have accepted her apology, issued a stern statement, and encouraged Megyn to start thinking, looking and interacting outside her lily white box.

For a network that likes to trot out the “The More You Know” tagline, you really blew it. it was a chance for Megyn and so many more like her to know more. And now they won’t.