Friday, February 22, 2019

Jack Kerouac and Trump's "wall"


My brain hurts. It's not unusual (Tom Jones reference?) for that to be the case -- lots to make it hurt going on these days -- but in this case it's the realization that I may be a racist xenophobe for thinking that having strategic sections of fence as part of border security is something other than a symbol of hatred for the "other." If well-off white-skinned people were pouring over our northern border I don't think I'd care about a "wall" to keep them out. So it's not about immigration -- it's about keeping certain people "out" based on the color of their skin or some perception about their value as human beings. At least that is one way to frame it.

I'm thinking about this because I'm reading best-selling author Michael Connelly's 2016 novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and just came across this:
Politicians could talk about building walls and changing laws to keep people out, but in the end they are just symbols. Neither would stop the tide any more than the rock jetties at the mouth of the port did. Nothing could stop the tide of hope and desire.
I asked myself -- "symbols of what?" -- and the only thing I could come up with are racism, xenophobia, etc. And having supported "strategic sections of fence where needed," I stand guilty of both, I'm afraid.

Damn you, Michael Connelly, for making me use my brain.

Which brings me to Jack Kerouac. What would he think about President Trump's wall? I have to give Jack credit for experience in this regard, since he crossed the southern border into Mexico and vice versa any number of times when he was "on the road." While there he interacted freely with the very type of person our President purports to keep out -- people on the margins of society like drug users, criminals, the poor, etc. Based on that experience and his own family's history, I might guess Jack would have some empathy for the plight of immigrants and thus not be a supporter of the wall.

But then I think about the older Jack who espoused conservative values and I wonder if he might be a supporter of the wall, or at least -- as I admittedly have been -- a supporter of strategic sections of fence where needed.

Two things are certain. First, we'll never know what Jack Kerouac would think about Trump's wall, and second, the whole situation is too damn complex for sound bites. It involves deep-seated values in tension with each other, and there are no easy answers.

So whether you are a Trump supporter or not, a wall supporter or not, I hope you think about the fact that we are talking about real human beings who are affected by border policies, and that they deserve compassion -- something Jack was big on. And remember that I love you either way you lean because you are a human being first and everything else is secondary. Would that we all started framing our thinking with that in mind!

We are all human beings with the same needs, security being one of them. It's understandable that some human beings see a wall as a necessary strategy to provide them with security. And it's understandable that other human beings think other strategies are better options for meeting that same need. Our needs are not in conflict, just the strategies we espouse to meet those needs. If we could start with that, we might get somewhere. So maybe I shouldn't label myself as a racist xenophobe but, rather, look at my intent when I support border fencing. And I should extend that courtesy to other as well. Are we fence supporters because we hate brown people, or because we value border security as a general construct and think fencing would help with that? But even if the answer is the latter, how do we know there isn't unconscious racism and xenophobia afoot?

And thus my brain hurts.

Those are my ramblings for this Friday morning. The sun is shining and I am sitting here in my warm house ensconced in white privilege and feeling mighty guilty about it.

How's your day going?

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