It was Valentine’s Day, so I started thinking about love. How little of it there seems to be going around lately, and how it’s the only thing that can save us all. And when I say “save,” I mean make us feel better; by mining deep inside us for a way to experience love or express love. It may even be transitory, but if it’s only for one moment, then we will have beaten back that other flash of hatred, despair, fear, or anxiety.
For 20 years, one of my businesses has been manufacturing a line of temporary body art kits that we sell to stores and through our website, EarthHenna.com. In the spirit of Black History Month, a couple of days ago, I sent an email to our customer base offering them a way to support our Black-owned business by taking advantage of a 20% discount. And then the hate mail started. One person responded, “Nope!” Another said he would rather buy “American” than buy from us. I guess “American” and “Black” cannot co-exist! I was attacked as a racist. With each subsequent email, my spirit felt a little more sullied.
However, it turned out that by the end of the day, the hate emails amounted to only a trickle. Out of 27,000 contacts, there were only five. And of those five, there were three with whom I decided to engage in conversation because I discerned that they were not coming from a place of hatred, but of discomfort. Discomfort with the whole idea of needing to use one’s skin color as a way to entice sales or support, or anything else, for that matter. One was a woman of Cherokee, Nigerian, and European descent, another, a decent-sounding British man with a long history of being of service to human beings in need. A distaste for BLM came up, as did a concern that neo-Nazis would usurp the revolutionary idea of demanding equal treatment for Blacks and suggest that White people should buy only from White-owned stores. You know, Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter. While they made some thought-provoking points, I disagreed with others; but the exhilarating part of the exchange is that it happened at all. And I went from feeling dispirited to feeling better, or as some might call it: love, or joy, or fulfillment; they all come from the same family. Only a desire to not feel hatred would drive someone to take time out of their day to engage in thoughtful communication with a total stranger. It gave me hope, somehow.
I’ve been reading a biography of Ghandi by a French author Jacques Attali. What’s wonderful about Ghandi, among other things, is that he was a writer — of books, loads of newspaper articles and opinion columns, and letters. Lots of letters. So, there is a treasure trove of writings by the great, if imperfect human being that he was. As I’m reading, I bookmark the pages for certain quotes; and this one stood out (my translation from the French):
“We are free to tell the truth, not to lie; free to serve others, not exploit them; free to sacrifice ourselves, not to kill or wound.”
And this one:
“Lies, haste, and false promises are forms of violence.”
Which brings me to a term that’s been floating around in my head for some time now, and which conjures the violence of lies. That term is “Elites.” I am Haitian-American, and back in the early 90s, someone, maybe a journalist or people on the island, branded Haiti’s moneyed class, the bourgeoisie, as they are commonly referred to, as the MREs, which stood for the “morally repugnant elite.” I can’t stop thinking about that word, which used to stand for people with vast wealth, who [not all, but most] look down on the disadvantaged among them as unimportant, sub-human, beneath their contempt (which contributes to perpetuating their circumstances). “Elite” has been turned on its head. Now it is educated progressives that are commonly described as “elites” for looking down their noses at those in rural parts of the country, who vote against their own self-interests. Excuse me, but I beg to differ. The occupant of the 2020 White House is a picture-perfect example of an MRE, with his gilded hotels and homes, looking down with disdain at those who would give their lives for him, defile their souls for him.
Progressives do wonder aloud whether these Republican voters are just plain stupid. (No, it’s not stupidity cause I know smart Trumpers). Is it willful ignorance? Or is it a lack of education and critical thinking skills that keeps them filling in those same circles at the ballot box. What the hell is it?? Is it self-hatred? Welcome to the ugly frustration of the flummoxed. Still, it is those same progressives, who keep hammering away, decade after decade, at trying to level the playing field with policies that would aid the under-represented and disadvantaged among us; all while Republicans keep throwing money at the wealthy in the form of never-ending tax cuts and the like.
Where we stand in this country today is a direct reflection of years and years of lies, repeated over and over again, until they lead to (daily) violence, which Ghandi equated to an absence of love.
Upon reflection of Valentine’s Day, which is dedicated to love, I urge us all to speak with each other in truthful, polite, measured tones — in person or on whatever platform we choose to express ourselves — even when we’re angry. It will go a long way in creating an open door for engaging in communication, which has the potential to lead to love inside ourselves, and for others, someday. Maybe even now.
Image courtesy of pcfalcons.com