An unidentified young Black male resident of Frogtown told photographer Wing Young Huie, “It’s not just Black people. I know some Asians, and they got the mentality to kill somebody. It’s like everybody got their own little ‘hood.”
Studying history or even modern world news portrays this ‘hood, my ‘hood, your ‘hood as the propensity of the universal man. Witness this: John Steinbeck wrote, “When [he] thought of Chinese beauty the iron predatory faces of the Manchus came to his mind, arrogant and unyielding faces of a people who had authority by unquestioned inheritance.”
Witness this: Writer Edward Hoagland knew New Yorkers who spoke of Palestinians as if they were not quite human, as are the Roma (gypsy.) “All men and all races are the children of God…one cannot exterminate Gypsies or Jews because one considered them of an inferior race.” (Source: Bob Shacochis.)
Witness this: A Cuban father’s daughter says his only jokes about Puerto Ricans were racist. A Lakota warns that, “Ojibway dreaded Anisinabe who drove the Sioux out.” (Source: Jim Harrison.)
Or an Istrian who said, “I dream about that day when nobody will hate me because of the food I prefer, my memory, or the language I speak.” (Source: Slavenka Drakulic.)
We are all the same? Or we are not all the Universal Man? “When people would talk against the Serbs as if they were all the same, my mother would say, ‘Please don’t talk like that around me. They aren’t all the same.’” (Source: N. Dzozic)
“In [Belfast, Northern Ireland] the big haters can’t really tell each other apart. How we envy those who hate black or white people — that obvious difference, that demonstrable objection.” (Source: Robert McLiam Wilson.)
This psychological message that you are inferior or “nothing,” that “You will never be a human being,” is not confined to one continent. Class hierarchy, Leon Rodriguez says, was resented by Gandhi when he lived in South Africa. The indigenous people, Rodriguez (originally from South Africa) goes on to say, were “made to feel inferior.” A Pakistani speaker at a St. Paul college in 2014 said this was their experience as well under British rule.
There is no consolation to those who suffer the class/caste system, the one-upmanship, the pecking order that is a part of humanity. Indoctrination that results in “very little pride” or to be seen as “less than,” deficient, defaced, dehumanized cannot be ameliorated. “The human condition,” Doris Lessing wrote, “is to be trapped by circumstance.”
“In the years before the Civil War, politicians from the North wanted to fill the West with farmers on 160-acre homesteads to stop the spread of slavery.” (Source: Ian Frazier.) Lewis Thomas says, “Ants are so much like human beings, as to be an embarrassment. They capture slaves.”
While the president of Benin may have “apologized on his knees in Baltimore for the African role in the slave trade,” (Source: Eula Biss), this is no compensation and no consolation to those who suffered. An Arab-Muslim woman’s unspoken words to a woman-defender of Israel was, “You don’t have a monopoly on suffering, you know!” (Source: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf.) It is however, something everybody wants, Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.”
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.