The beautiful Blue Ridge, and our racism, continued
by Rob Tiller
Last week I went to the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina, where I took a photography workshop with Les and Janet Saucier. The main subject was macro photography, and we shot a lot of wildflowers. We also did some vistas off the Parkway and a particularly gorgeous waterfall called Eastatoe. I was standing in ankle deep in chilly water for my waterfall shots, and it was totally worth it.
Les and Janet were good teachers. Les had a kind of zen master vibe — not saying too much, but somehow making us look and think harder. We shot in some tough conditions at times, including rain and wind, which Les encouraged us to appreciate as opportunities for new perspectives.
To find macro subjects, he advised that we pay attention to what caught our eye and made us feel something. This mapped well onto my mindfulness meditation practice, part of which involves learning to pay better attention to what’s going on in your head and heart.
I did one hike on my own from the Parkway up to the top of Mount Pisgah. It turned out to be steeper and longer than expected, and I was in quite a lather when I got to the top. There was a good view of the mountains and valleys, as well as a plug ugly communications equipment tower.
Just as I started back down the trail, I heard a loud thunder clap, and soon after it started to rain. I’d brought my trusty Nikon D850 camera, but no rain gear, and I was very worried that the camera would get damaged. I put it under my sweaty tee shirt and scurried downward. Fortunately, it didn’t rain too hard, and my beloved D850 weathered the storm.
Along with a lot of natural beauty, from our beaches to our mountains, North Carolina has some old and stubborn problems. While I was at the workshop in Brevard, Trump held a rally in Greenville, NC, where the ralliers chanted “Send her back.” The code wasn’t hard to decipher: they were saying this country is for white people, and minorities and women who get uppity will not be tolerated. This is ugly, ignorant, and sad, but also interesting. It could serve as a kind of an acid test for just how racist a country we are now.
Jamelle Bouie wrote a perceptive essay in the NY Times about how our racial caste system has historically used public violence, including lynchings, to intimidate minorities, which at the same time reinforces the concept of white supremacy. Trump’s rallies aren’t lynchings, of course, but the threat of violence at his rallies keeps getting more obvious. Bouie highlights how such raucous gatherings not only scare minorities but also build a sense of white supremacist community. For these folks, expressing high intensity hate involves ecstatic joy, as the crowd feels united against the Other and reaffirmed in their traditional white identity.
This is pathetic and ignorant, but it’s exciting, at least for a particular subpopulation. Trump appears to have made a judgment that scapegoating minorities with raucous circuses will distract from his personal and policy shortcomings, like his incompetence, dishonesty, cruelty, and corruption; his failure to deliver on most of his promised domestic programs; his stupid and dangerous blundering in international relations; and his driving us headlong towards environmental catastrophe.
Here in North Carolina, there’s no denying that we’ve got some 100-proof racists, who truly hate black people, and who believe that white people are both superior and wronged victims. We’ve also got a lot of people who are appalled at such notions and are committed to the values of tolerance, diversity, and equality. And there are many people, including some of us who support racial justice, who also carry around a strain of subtle racism that they don’t even realize they’ve got.
American racism is part of the air we breathe, and those accustomed to white privilege can go for periods without even noticing it. One good thing about Trump and his true believers is that their bold expressions of hate make it harder to ignore. They should make us less complacent, and inspire us to be more honest in recognizing and fixing our own prejudices. And they should make us take a closer look at our politicians to see which are aligned with our better angels for a fairer, more just society, and for those who are not, stop playing footsie and firmly give them the boot.