Friday, June 05, 2020

I just can't even...

When I first moved to the states and we went to register at the school, the guidance counselor kind of just fit me into classes that had room for me rather than thinking about what kind of classes I might need. Thus it was that I ended up in remedial English and US History Honors (with a u (had to backspace it out of there)). I'm not sure I'll ever feel not offended by that.

I'm not upset about it anymore, really. I got through it just fine. But I just...why?

Anyway, US History (Honors!) was a difficult class for me because so much of it was Brand New Information. Or at least it was information that I had been taught but hadn't been forced to memorize and...uhhhhh...worship. The first week of school we had to take a quiz on the names of the fifty states, plus their capitols, plus their location on the map. My brain felt like it was exploding.

Canada has 10 provinces and (at the time I had to memorize them) 2 territories (now there are 3 territories). Being forced to memorize fifty names, capitols, and locations felt utterly overwhelming.

But I did it, by golly.

And by "did it" I mean "got 100%" because I'm a little bit of a perfectionist so anything less than 100% is an abominable failure and I'm really working on not being like this.


Anyway, that year we also had to memorize The Gettysburg Address. It's a beautiful speech but I feel it embraces a few fallacies, even right there in the introduction: a nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? I don't know about that. Now, I realize this speech was given at the end of a bloody Civil War largely fought to promote the idea that all men are—for real—created equal. But, like, the fact that we had to fight a Civil War to abolish slavery hints at the idea that this country wasn't totally dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal after all.

This country was founded on the idea that some lives are more important than others and this idea has been echoing through law and history books since its conception. This country was built on stolen land using slave labour. And we've never fully dealt with that.

I'm not saying other countries are sinless (Canada, for example, does not have a great track record with its treatment of First Nations and is certainly not free from racism today); I'm just saying that it's high time we recognize the horror on which we are built. It feels like it's always been a bit of a sandy foundation...

But, my point is, that I was thinking about this last night and how this idea of ranking people's importance is so ingrained in society. When we rank people's importance and allow some people to be more important than others, it is easy to erase people. It's easy to say that entire swaths of the population simply don't matter because of who they are and how I rank "those people." This way of thinking may well perpetuate a climate of violence in America.

Relax. I know we're a developed, affluent nation with tons of privilege. We aren't Lesotho (where high levels of unemployment are leading to desperation (except...like...I mean...now)) or Honduras (with out-of-control gang violence) but our track record of violence really isn't great.

I was thinking about this last night as I was pondering the death penalty—how we permit ourselves to say to someone "your life isn't worth living." How we've said that over and over again through our history and how the idea is so completely ingrained in our society. It is a violent idea.

I believe it is the reason neighbourhood vigilantes feel they can murder black men (and boys) walking through their neighbourhood. "I felt like they were a criminal. They looked like a criminal." What kind of a justification is that?

I believe it's the reason we have these "lone wolf" shooters in our communities. We arm our citizens and then teach them that they "get" to determine whether people's lives are valuable. Did someone offend you? Must be a lesser being. Do your thang.

And then we act all shocked, as if our "individualism" (which I suppose could be healthy if it was really "the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant" rather than "me first!" culture) and willingness to degrade entire populations of people while at the same time arming our unstable population to the teeth hasn't at all contributed to these issues.

The very fact that we needed multiple amendments to the constitution to get us to the sorry state we are in today regarding the value of human life (specifically re: women and people of colour) speaks volumes to our tainted history. The constitution was never a perfect document, was never worthy of worship, and honestly we haven't had a constitutional amendment submitted since the 1970s. The world has changed a lot since then (it's been fifty years; half a century) and I think it's probably about time to reevaluate the framework of our society to meet our modern needs.

(Currently cry-laughing over the fact that the 27th amendment was proposed in 1789 but not "completed" until 1992. It was "pending" for over 200 years! How the cogs of humanity spin...)

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