Although it certainly isn’t the only thing to come into play, it is ultimately our culture that shapes most of our beliefs. We all grow up with rules that never really have to be explained, things in our life that we learn at some point to be unchallengeable, unquestionable, and we get these from the continuous input we are surrounded by on a daily basis. This culture is made by those in power, those who find themselves in positions of leadership. Cultural leaders can be found in the local middle school (see Kooky Pens and other fads) and on podiums in from of grassroots activists. They can be teachers, or news anchors, or anyone that has a noticeable amount of pull within their respective communities.
When I was 16 I took an English class taught by a woman named Phyllis Levitt. Having already read the first novel that was on our reading list for that course, she handed me a copy of ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker. By the end of that novel – and many after class discussions- I had contracted a full blown case of ‘Feminist-itis’.
Now, you could argue that the seeds of feminism were already there; I was raised by a father who believed in his daughters being educated and free from the confines of having to depend on a man for survival, but the word ‘feminism’ still had a negative association to it in my mind simply by existing as a teen girl in the early 1990’s. Still, when challenged by someone who I greatly admired, my initial perception of what it meant to be a feminist - man hating, anti-social, unfeminine - quickly fell away.
This is why I cannot give Sarah Palin, or any other high profile leaders a free pass when it comes to failing to step up to the plate and decry the rise of overtly hateful behavior on the part of those that look to them for leadership and advice. It’s naive to underestimate the influence they hold over this segment of the population - a population already planted with seeds of insecurity and fear now that some of the things they had always taken as consistent and unchanging (a black man being elected President, a lesbian Supreme Court Justice) have indeed changed. And while it's essential that those on the left, particularly OUR cultural leaders, speak out against this behavior, it is even more important that they push for the cultural leaders of the Angry Right to speak out against the increasing violence of their followers.
Palin and others certainly DO have the power to change the tone of these protests, to cool the flames with regards to those acting out in this way. But as of now, they only serve to fan the flames of desperation and hatred by questioning President Obama’s citizenship or giving non-verbal approval when someone in the audience accuses the Commander-In-Chief of being a terrorist. The rules of culture are often created not by what’s said, but by what isn’t. It’s what you allow to transpire without reprimand or insult.
If someone like Sarah Palin says the word ‘Muslim’ like it’s a curse while linking the faith to terrorism, or Glenn Beck preaches about the coming ‘revolution’, it isn’t overacting to point to these people as catalysts to violent attacks on Mosques - the Muslim faith's equivalent of a Church, a place to worship God - presumably the very same one that Ms. Palin and the others claim to be so devoted to.
The cultural leaders of the Angry Right seem content to give out these mixed messages, relying instead on their denials or acknowledgment of this sort of behavior when someone calls them on it. And if truly pressed, I have no doubt that Palin would condemn these attacks, but she, in my opinion, cannot ignore her role in provoking them. By agreeing to show her open support of infamous Birther Michelle Bachmann, she almost single-handedly revived the racism fueled Birther campaign. And when she ignores instead of condemns the behavior of those who stand under her banner, she gives not so subtle codes of her approval of their actions whether she intends to or not.
When listening to the cultural leaders of the right, the use of the word 'Freedom' is inevitable. So let me say this; making a conscious choice to condemn those that would do harm to others different than yourself is supporting the very idea of personal freedom. If those leaders think that the media and we on the left have unjustly defined them as supportive of a racist culture, than they need to affirm their beliefs and take that identity back- even if it costs them the support of those within that racist culture. But they cannot play the innocent and we can no longer play the naive. To those leaders on the Right, I challenge you to be self-defined, to not be pigeonholed by the vocal, violent, and racist corners of your constituency and to show courage in the very name of the freedom that you love so much.
If your motivations and complaints about President Obama's policies are rooted not in hate, but in policy disagreements, then make that very clear to those who are motivated by the hatred and the fear of our African American president.
Because as Henrik Ibsen once said,"If you doubt yourself, then indeed you stand on shaky ground. "
And when those that provoke hatred and violence fall - which they inevitably will - then you will fall next to them, Ms. Palin, as surely and silently as you once stood.
X-Posted to Two Minutes Hate Blog