The west is burning. For a few days earlier this week the sky here, all these states and miles away, was a weird haze. I think I was coughing. But I’ve had sinus allergy stuff since March. Hard to say if the smoke in the sky from the other side of the country has made things worse. Hard to say it hasn’t. Consumed with this pandemic and constantly battling the lies of T., climate catastrophe has fallen from the headlines. Regulations and policies to combat the crisis have been reversed, deleted, destroyed. Recognition of how the changing climate is hurting the world’s most vulnerable the fastest. Like covid, inequity is an accelerant, fuel on the fire already burning, has been burning. T. is an accelerant, but not the cause. And when he’s gone—hopefully right out of office and directly into jail—the root causes of climate catastrophe and the unnecessary extent of the death and damage caused by covid won’t go away. We (American history, contemporary society, post WWII Republicans, unchecked capitalism etc. etc.) created T. and the racist culture that exalts him.
Ibrim Kendi says education isn’t necessarily the solution (or lack of education necessarily the problem):
“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course … the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.
“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”
But the failings in our educational systems have contributed. People who haven’t learned better—through formal education or through personal relationships and first-hand experiential learning—are especially susceptible to being convinced of the stories that perpetuate racial inferiority, the stories manufactured to justify the behavior/policies/practices of racial oppression and inequality. T. is doing this right now in the stories he tells—amplified by the world of right- wing media—about law and order and the largely peaceful BLM protests, in his new patriotic education plan, etc. His followers are ignorant and hateful but they also want to hold on to their own white power, socially at least, even if they don’t have any economic power. The owners of big oil and non-renewable everything corporations convinced us all for years to worship the causes of our own destruction. Powerful messaging indeed, profiting billions for a few while we all have helped the burning right along. Turns out even recycling has mostly been a lie, created by the plastic-makers, to keep us all in line. And we fell for it even when we should have known better.
Though, like Frederick Douglass personally knowing and feeling the violent effects of slavery and his learning to read and write the historical, structural, economic racism that fueled the system—and armed with this knowledge working to dismantle that system—we need better history taught in schools, more critical literacies. People of all races and colors and backgrounds can learn how to dismantle ignorance and policies, and many have and continue to learn and act, even if some forever Trumpers are just a newly labeled group of the same old leaders and followers violently holding on to their white privilege and power—those who have the money convincing those who don’t to pretend they have power even if their only power is hate.