I’ve received many thoughtful emails on today’s column, The cruelty of kind Alabamians. Here’s one I particularly liked, along with my response.
Thank you for this Op Ed. You make an observation that I have also found to be true, and I’ve puzzled over it from time to time. It seems paradoxical, but it is not by accident that individual good will gets turned to collective ill will, it is by design of the Hammons and Beasons of the world. This awareness can help us who do become targets from time to time remember that we were not naïve or stupid to trust in the sincere good will that we perceive from our neighbors, but that they are being manipulated.
This is not to say our neighbors are not responsible, and I am still trying to work out why they have this resentment that can so easily be tapped into and directed toward vulnerable groups. I speculate that it is because they themselves feel targets when they are stereotyped as bigots, and this is where the paradox really twists in on itself because they seem to react with a defiance that reinforces those very stereotypes.
As you can see, the thinking gets convoluted, the more I think about it which is why I appreciated your clarity. I thought it was great that you illustrated the point clearly with a lovely example, at the same time protecting the identity of the subject of your story.
Thanks for the kind comments.
I, too, struggle for an explanation. I especially struggle on Sundays, when I watch good people professing their individual commitment to help the needy, even though most voted for institutional intolerance. It’s not a complete explanation, but I think the economy plays a part. Animosity toward the Jews in Germany and the Irish in America and now Hispanics becomes much more acute when people have economic fears. “They are taking our jobs,” or “They are increasing our deficit.”
I suspect an element of the economic contribution to intolerance has to do with our need to feel superior to others. As income and wealth polarization widens, there is less distance between most Americans and the poor. Racial distinctions become the method by which many whites assure themselves that they have more in common with the elite than with the destitute.
Just a theory. Whatever the actual cause, a lot of human tragedy and ugliness is the result.