Melissa Harris-Perry: Fear Is Driving America's Politics, But Hope Is the Only Antidote
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And see, that's fine if you didn't know who Shirley Sherrod was; maybe it's okay if I didn't know -- but I did. But if you have ever watched " Eyes on the Prize," which I assume anyone who is in the leadership of the NAACP did, then the name "Sherrod" in the state of Georgia should have rung a bell for you because Charles Sherrod and Shirley Sherrod liberated the rest of Georgia while [Martin Luther] King was taking care of Atlanta. But that willingness to see a rural black woman from Georgia as inherently expendable--
And then, of course, post-2010, the full assault on women through the personhood amendments, through the fight between Komen and Planned Parenthood, they're putting contraception on the agenda in the 21st century. I'm sorry, I have to laugh. Like, seriously? We're talking about the Pill in 2012. The outlawing of abortions that never actually occurred, telling Sandra Fluke that she has to basically defend against being a slut in order to speak to the American people as though she were in Egypt and she has to submit to a virginity test in order to be in the public sphere-- oh, yeah, and that 2010 "year of the GOP woman" is the first year that we actually lost ground in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in terms of women's representation in 30 years.
We did that. And when I say "we" I mean the American people in the broadest sense. That our fear, our anxiety, our willingness to frame others, whether they are unruly women, "illegal" immigrants, "lazy" black people, "terrorist" Muslims -- our willingness to not see ourselves in them, but to see them as the other make possible all of these policy moments.
Now, this is the last thing I will say, and then I will run from this building: There is no reason to lose hope. We are just not perfect people. We're kind of like an adolescent country. Remember adolescence? My daughter is almost 11; I had forgotten. Adolescence is hard. You just randomly feel bad, and get afraid, and wonder about the security of childhood that you once had. And particularly for a country that became so dominant so quickly, that became so wealthy in the context of such inequality, that understood itself as standing on the shining hill -- we are in our adolescence and we're making a bit of a mess of it.
Reason to hope
That said, there is no reason to lose hope. The fear that has activated the last decade cannot be countered with more fear of what is coming. Is there money in the political system? Yup. Is the Supreme Court friendly? No. Are there folks willing to actually damage the very core of our democratic principles in order to win short-term gains? Um-hm.
Maybe it's coming from people who were slaves and Mormons -- my white people [ancestors] were Mormons; my black people were slaves. Everybody was basically after them. The Mormons got ejected out of Missouri, had to push handcarts across the American West. The black folks got enslaved for a couple of centuries. I don't know, I guess struggle doesn't worry me in the sense of being struggle itself.
What I do know is that my enslaved grandmother who was sold on a street corner in Richmond, Virginia, believed in God. Now, I'm not asking you to believe in God; I'm asking you to think about this: This is a woman who never knew anything but slavery for herself, never knew anything but slavery for everyone she'd ever been related to, never expected anything but slavery for all of the people she would be related to in the future. There was no empirical evidence that any being cared about her circumstances. There was no empirical evidence that there was a loving God who had any power. And if there was a loving God, he was pretty pitiful, or if he was powerful, he didn't seem to love her.