Things are different than what you think
Several years ago, I watched Bill Maher’s talk/comedy show Real Time on HBO. One of Bill’s guests was Margaret Cho, an exceptionally talented comedian who has always pushed the envelope. This night the panelists were discussing America’s many wars, conflicts and global interventions. Margaret declared that President George W. Bush should be charged for war crimes because he used US military force under false pretenses to topple Saddam Hussein, which also killed innocent people. One of the other guests retorted, “You are a comedian. You don’t have the right to say that. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bill broke up the fight, but I was taken aback. Does one have to meet certain qualifications or carry a particular pedigree before commenting on a subject? With the power of social media these days, many unqualified people have platforms far more powerful than their intellect.
Another night, Maher used the “N word,” and some powerful African Americans appeared on his show the following week to explain why he can’t use that word, even in a joke. For Maher, being contrite was not only out of character, but outside his brand of libertarian free speech and being politically incorrect to make a point.
When basketball player LeBron James commented about politics a few years ago, Laura Ingraham was quick to call him out by saying, “Shut up and dribble.” I guess that conservative washrag believes professional athletes don’t have the same valuable citizen rights declared in the First Amendment. Now we’re hearing it about Whoopi Goldberg. One commentator on a cable “news” network actually said, “Whoopi was added to the show to do humor, not engage in serious conversations.”
By now, everyone knows what Whoopi said and there are some coming to her defense, but it’s an argument no one will win with those who are most deeply affected by Hitler and the Holocaust. This is a situation like what ABC went through years ago with Roseanne Barr, who failed to comprehend the hate in her social media comments. For Ms. Goldberg, it’s a suspension and, of course, a “learning” moment. I have learned also.
Hitler and the Holocaust cannot be approached in a strictly historical or scholarly etymological way. Words, no matter how much we massage or defend them, must be understood in context of the emotional vibrations they impart. I’ll use the word, “uptight” as an example. When Stevie Wonder sang, “Everything is alright, uptight, out of sight,” we joyously sang along. Several years later, being “uptight” was no longer a good thing. And few would have commented on the irony of a blind man singing the words, “out of sight.”
Pop psychologists decided the word “uptight” meant to be filled with stress. There’s no way to go back to the older, original meaning. Words change and morph throughout history and as a meaning changes a different feeling can be elicited when the word is used. It would be a futile exercise to debate the derivation of the word, “race” and apply that to a defense of Whoopi Goldberg’s statement.
Here’s what I learned quite swiftly. Just like no white person can truly know what it’s like to be black, no non-Jewish person can accurately know the pain, the sorrow, and the struggle felt by those who saw the numbers tattooed on the arms of their loved ones. The Jewish community has a right to bristle when hearing an uncentered debate between TV talking heads about the Holocaust and Hitler’s demonic theories and actions. Those wielding opinions on such a powerful platform need to figure out which topics are outside their range of knowledge and simply not comment on them. I’m sure Whoopi is smart, but she’s not an expert with Jewish emotions or knowledge, but as we have seen many times before, anyone has the right to make a mistake, so long as they have the cognizance to own it.
I am the son of a soldier who was there right after those death camps in Europe were liberated, and even I can’t comprehend how that affects the families involved. I do know that my father was deeply depressed by what he saw and spent the rest of his life trying to find solace in his church and with his God. I don’t need to be told how I felt when I looked at the photographs in the History of WWII books that were in our home. This is why Emmett Till’s casket was open in the church, to make everyone know what happened.
Hitler was quick to declare who was part of the “Aryan race” and who was not. Had he kept his stupid theories to himself, we wouldn’t be talking about this and six million people would not have been murdered. Some might use the word, “died” in that sentence, but doing so would be wrong. Human beings were murdered. This is a perfect example of the challenge people face when communicating. They sometimes say stupid things or slightly change the meaning to win an argument only to lose a friend.
I approached a sensitive matter and learned a valuable lesson: don’t over-analyze, try to justify or allude to understanding another’s pain. Was slavery bad? Yes. Were African Americans killed? Yes, but I cannot use the knowledge of my race in a discussion about someone else’s race. Why should white board of education members get to tell Black people how it was? It’s never an exact fit when you force your viewpoints or try to pervert the truth. Doing so might make the other person feel you don’t care, or worse, that you don’t understand.
There was a time in Scottish history when the powers of Great Britain declared my descendants were an inferior “race,” and that allowed the English government to wield ridiculous power over people, who were the same as Brits, humans. Back in that day, there was a common law known as The Lord’s Right, also called jus primae noctis, which loosely translates to “the right of the first night.” This rule allowed feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women on their wedding nights. They used the force of their army to take the women away from the village. Imagine if the governor of your state took your daughter on her wedding day. I certainly didn’t need to debate whether I was a “subordinate race” to feel anger and resentment toward any government that would allow such a barbaric practice. If you don’t want to take the time to read about it, just go watch the movies Brave Heart or Rob Roy.
The final lesson for today, but never forever, is we must always remember the horrendous things people do to people. It always starts when they declare you are an “other.” They can steal your name, they can steal your family, they can steal the very meaning of words for their own purposes, but it’s impossible to erase the blood stain by arguing about words. You must know the feeling, the pain and, of course, the reality of today. There are still Nazis in America. Those same evil people we thought we eliminated continue to live amongst us. Don’t waste time discussing words when the problem is still alive.
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