The Maryville City Schools’ survey in which a majority of Whites voted to keep the Rebel mascot while a majority of Blacks voted to change it, put me in a funk. About what we don’t see. Maybe even can’t see or, truth be told, just don’t want to see. Blind spots.
We all have them. Some worse than others.
Some blind spots are pretty harmless. Like how old we look. Or how our voice actually sounds. Or that my 20-year-old suit from J.C. Penny really doesn’t look as good as I think it does. Or that tie.
But some blind spots are heinous. Like slavery. How in the name of a loving God did a bunch of church folks ever justify in their minds the kidnapping, murder, rape and enslavement of one person — much less an entire race?
But we did. For centuries. Which is why, of course, that the term “Rebel” is offensive to most African Americans regardless of its present-day usage or the subjective intentions of those using it.
Returning to the blind spot of slavery, religion had a lot to do with it. We used a few select proof-texts from scripture to deny the overall message of scripture. The same way we justify our discriminatory treatment of women and of gays and lesbians. Future generations will be embarrassed about it, but not yet.
They tend to run among groups. Large groups. Until a Galileo comes along and says, “Wait a minute ... .”
Political parties have them. Democrats can get so protective of a woman’s right to control her own body that they forget all about the interests of the other human being that is growing inside her. Republicans can get so caught up in cutting taxes and downsizing government that they forget that many Americans are dependent on our government to provide them with food, housing or health care. Then, a loved one gets HIV, and the lights come on.
Not all blind spots are about morality. Many exist simply because we don’t know as much as we think we do. It may be apocryphal, but I like the way the dean of a prestigious medical school put it when he told the graduates he had good news and bad news. “The good news is about half of what you learned here is true. The bad news is the other half isn’t. The worse news is we don’t know which half is which.”
Blind spots are the ancients poisoning themselves by drinking wine out of lead goblets. Probably not so different from what we’re doing with our gas-guzzling cars and coal-fired electricity.
The interesting question, of course, is what will future generations look back and say about us? No doubt they will curse us about our careless mistreatment of the planet. That’s a no-brainer. But what else will they say? That we tortured our animal friends on factory farms? That we should have invested more in space exploration? Been more vigilant about sustaining our democracy? Too quiescent in the face of 20% child poverty?
I honestly don’t know. That’s the whole thing about blind spots. You can’t see them.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t be judged based upon them. We will — whether by historians or a Higher Power.
Think about it. We’re not very understanding of the buffalo hunters of the American West or the Germans and Italians of mid-20th century Europe. Or the British, Dutch, French and Spanish colonizers who raped, pillaged and plundered in the name of empire. Some argue we Americans have done the same in places like the Philippines and Central America, not to mention Iraq or Afghanistan.
So, ask yourself, what are we not seeing? What am I not seeing? What might we need to start doing differently?
I see that sort of introspection happening here in Maryville. Groups stepping up to advocate for children. For battered women. For the homeless. For chained dogs. Health care providers donating time to serve the poor. Legal Aid. Scholarship programs.
Sometimes we can detect blind spots simply by changing our vantage point. Getting a different sight angle. Like asking, “What might a person think of this whose age, gender, skin color or sexual orientation is different than mine?”
We might be surprised at what we see.