What Goes Around

Harry Drabik

Visitors (few of color or non-English speakers) come to the North Shore for an idyllic getaway that an observer could have cause to think of as an escape from diversity they enjoy wherever home might be. The air here is Lake Superior non-urban fresh as the herring in Fish N’ Chips or new as the latest beer brewed at the local brewery featuring all natural beers with specialty names. Or in other words, most of the North Shore our visitors are attracted to is conventional as white bread put in a whole foods wrapper. In a pod, it’s not cutting edge or social progressivism to sip Northwoods branded espresso at a little table while eyeing a placid harbor. It is far more fact than complaint to say those who live here and visit here are appreciative of unchallenging ordinariness. Learning to craft a folk style cedar bark tea cozy is a comfortable pursuit.  

The tranquil exterior is real enough, but the escapist will either find or bring with them more than the odd reminder of what is often felt as belonging outside the North Shore box of sublimes. I pass along a recent example in an exchange with a regular doing a script page on Trump. (For the record I avoid going off on Trump as I did on Obama. Let those with the appetite and talent for it do the pro forma bashing.) At times, however, I respond to a rant in hope of encouraging a change of topic. With hope weighted as in an Indulgence Prayer I told the ardent speaker I did not worry much about Trump because I didn’t give him all that much thought to begin with. I got an interesting reply insisting I would worry if I was a black woman.  

Analysis and understanding that goes along such lines isn’t rare here in the green paradise where it is supposed to be of the outside and therefore scarce in the north woods as a bikini clad hippo. But commonplace political thought, so it seems, has picked up an interesting judgmental angle. Of course, any person’s thoughts and feelings are connected with their background. I’d see the world differently as a Japanese pearl diver or an Italian vintner. In either of the two examples the statement would not apply very well, would it, and maybe not at all. The seemingly sensitive and compassionate statement is, I find, starkly judgmental and odiously biased (by race or ethnicity) by attaching supposedly correct thought and feeling to color and gender. Are there citizens who actually believe color controls the value of thought and experience? If I court a really deep tan and speak in a higher register using dialect does my brain change and my words gain added weight and value? When someone is doing the judging it’s easy for them to accuse others of not understanding (actually of being incapable of doing so) when the judge has the same inability to see deeper than surfaces. I find even the suggestion that color and gender are prime defining values of an individual to be a demeaning, ugly, and viciously racist view. Understanding to be of worthwhile use has to work on all sides. The application of color and gender as qualifiers of individual value is neither a fair nor reasonable standard because changing your ethnicity or orientation is likely many times more difficult than would be the task of abandoning use of English to become a fluent speaker of Mandarin. Someone saying your view is questionable based on your color or gender is saying something rather nasty. In any case, being judgmental is not, I suspect, the best route to understanding, though it is a lot less work and has appeal to those seeking easier ways that suit them.  

So even here sheltering in the safe harbors of the North Shore the stormy seas of lazy navigating the waters of perception brings the voyageur hard upon the rocks of reality. I’ve no doubt of the sincerity behind efforts to improve our cultural and social sensitivity, but at some point it is legitimate to question the worth of having added Braille to the keys of a drive-up ATM. Is a taken gesture sufficient to say “We tried”? When policies and decisions become rooted in flat applications and even flatter results the resulting leveling down process gets in the way of human achievement including that of meaningful understanding of others and of the past. The leveling down or flat view throws aside any effort to come to a working understanding in favor of a quick and stupidly empty solution. The example of Confederate Civil War monuments is apt enough. Whatever the battle or general represented that gets taken down doing so is as narrow-mindedly self-serving as the supposed reasons behind the monument. People and events may become iconic, but the individuals and the struggles they took part in were flesh and blood people who believed and did things far more complex and worthy of consideration than to be discarded in a lump as racist humans undeserving of consideration.  

If the objection is to treating others as property then why treat others as intellectual or historical property that can be written off as blithely as one might sell off a slave to raise a little cash? Adding to or expanding the scope of Confederate monuments is worth, I think, serious consideration, that is of the goal is broadening our view. If your aim is tear down then you get that result, a thing I’d call opportunity lost, but perfectly in keeping with a vision lacking view. Such vision delights on the ills of others so as not to view their own. Pulling down a confederate general for his narrowness is its own narrowness by granting to another no human recognition but desecration and destruction. The rope around the statue’s neck becomes an act of lynching as suits the overlord mind. Its behavior pulls down Sadam Hussein and installs others who are just the same.