At 4:30 in the afternoon a few days ago, my neighbor, Jess, called to ask me if she could stop by for a moment. Sure, I said, thinking she was going to want me to cat-sit for a week while she, her husband and daughter went to visit family in Colorado.
She arrived a few minutes later looking upset. “I want to ask you a question, Carole, and I hope you won’t be offended. It’s because you are Jewish. Lauren (her 6-year-old girl) asked me why everyone is mad at the 3K people and the others on TV. How can I explain it to her?”
How do you tell a sweet child who worries when her pet has a hairball about the history of hate? We went online to see what child psychologists, teachers and clergy were suggesting. Since she already understands bullying, we used that as our starting point and wrote some notes Jess could use to talk about mean people who want to hurt others because they don’t like their color or religion. Jess, a devout Catholic and Republican supporter of John Kasich, added a bit of Bible story. We tried to keep it simple. I think it worked… At least for now.
I have been in a daze since Charlottesville, and that day was the worst. And I fervently wish someone could explain it to me.
I had planned to stay away from social media and cable news for a bit. Hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets and hours on end of media coverage… what else was left to say? But Lauren’s question is haunting me and the response to the events by the President so sickened and angered me that I wanted to write. It helps me to deal with difficult things.
So here it is. There is NO equivalency between Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK with the protesters who have the courage and moral compass to stand up to them. Did some protesters have clubs, rocks and bottles? Yes. Did they come because they have hate in their hearts or the intention to inflict harm? No. They came because they have learned their history. They came because they understand that we must call out, loudly and clearly, when we see and hear hate, intolerance, bigotry and threats to our very existence. They came because they feel a sense of urgency. They would not have been there if there was no Alt-Right March and Rally. And there is no Alt-Left. The protesters were Republicans, Conservatives, Progressives, Democrats, Clergy, old and young, and every color and preference.
They came because neo-Nazis believe that Jews are the root of all evil and yelled “We will not be replaced by Jews”. They came because the KKK believe that only certain types of white Christians have a place in America. Because lynching, beating, power hosing, and cross burning are their methodology. They came because white supremacists are domestic terrorists.
They were dismayed, horrified and saddened by the words, or lack of them, voiced by some elected officials and others in power. Words that seemed to give encouragement or provide cover for the worst in our midst who many of us, foolishly perhaps, hoped were long gone and silenced.
They wished and waited for glorious, heartfelt speeches that tried to heal a terribly hurt country. That denounced the haters by name and told David Duke and his followers there is no place for them in America. But only a few…brave people willing to put their personal ambitions, comfort and profit aside, spoke out. The silence was, and is, deafening!
So, what do we tell Lauren and all the other children? That the likelihood is this nightmare will continue? That hateful words and frightening deeds are part of life? That there are always some evil people in the world? That, as so many times before, it will be their generation who will have to make things right?
I can share with her my memories of drills in elementary school, hiding under our desks or sitting, backs against the wall, in a darkened hallway, silent, waiting for an all clear bell…no bombs today. And I can try to reassure her…there are so many good people in the world that keep us safe and love us.
In the meantime, though, Lauren and I, three generations apart, are left with the same questions…Why do people hate? How can we make it stop?
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.