We are often skeptical of some of the narratives promoted by mainstream media and bounced around the echo chambers of social media. A recurrent theme in our discussions here has been the negative bias of news reporting as well as the exaggeration, embellishment and spin practiced by many professional talkers.
There are some media-perpetuated myths which continue to be harmful to our civil society. It is not that racism does not exist. It most certainly does. It’s not that society has not, throughout much of history, been dominated by men. It has. It’s not that there are no underprivileged people living among us. There are many.
There is, however, a persistent myth which appears to be intentionally promoted in order to create hostility between conservative and liberal, white and non-white, and even urban and rural. The myth is that every male, white person, conservative, Christian and any person who has ever voted for a republican, can be painted with the same broad brush of racism, prejudice and misogyny at worst, and privilege at best. Nothing could be further from the truth. Normally, only a simpleton would accept these, or any such stereotypes.
However, when such myths are implied by mainstream media and reinforced on social media, when “everyone” is posting about it and all the “most trusted” news networks focus repetitively on the worst examples of human behavior while discounting or ignoring the vast majority of what is good, then stereotypes are reinforced to the point where anyone can begin to accept them as truth.
There are other stereotypes running counter to the currently dominant memes: the inner city criminal, the liberal snowflake, which are just as inaccurate, but these usually do not benefit from tacit approval by corporate media.
Another damaging and persistent myth is that our nation is falling apart, on the brink of collapse or suffering from a great divide because of the behavior of its people.
Yet thousands of pickup trucks driven by men wearing baseball caps, pulling fishing boats or loaded with tools, chainsaws and disaster supplies, converged on flood ravaged Houston last week from all over the south. The “Cajun Navy” came out in force to help. The majority of these volunteers, traveling on their own time and at their own expense happened to be white (a simple function of demographics, not of merit). Most of them came from the same red states to which some have referred when suggesting that natural disaster is a just punishment for voting republican.
Thousands of cowboys, rednecks, hillbillies and blue collar workers, the stereotypes so often aspersed by those who consider themselves to be more sophisticated, came to help strangers in an urban area where less than half the population is white. And there they have spent many long hours in dangerous conditions and toxic water, avoiding snakes, alligators and floating colonies of fire ants, to help anyone who needed help. They have helped rescue thousands of people, and they continue to do so.
To its credit, mainstream media has indeed commented on the spirit of cooperation around Houston which has transcended all barriers of race, class or politics. We have never suggested that there are not people of integrity reporting the news who seek to discover the facts and report them, when they are allowed to do so.
We all have an opportunity for a renewed, more mature understanding of what this country is about. As it was so painfully revealed in last year’s election, Hollywood actors, late night comedians and political pundits do not speak exclusively for the nation. They are merely the loudest voices, and the most well financed. Many who could speak prefer to remain silent.
We have yet to hear a full report from that authoritative voice which has grown ever louder in our lifetimes. President Obama once said that government “can and must be a force for good.” When we look at the ever increasing size and coercive power of the federal government, as well as the bill to the taxpayers for government’s good intentions, we might conclude that if the federal government was a mental patient, the diagnosis would be megalomania or some other manic or paranoid disorder. Government seems to consider itself the essential voice in all matters.
But government is not the force for good which is doing the most to help the people of Houston. That force is ordinary people. One of the greatest organizing forces currently working in the flood damaged areas is churches, which are opening their doors and sharing their human and material resources. Volunteers drawn from the entire spectrum of race, national origin, and political affiliation are working together tirelessly. People are opening their homes to those less fortunate, and often sharing what little they have with people who have less.
This is the reality of America. We see it every time there is a disaster, everywhere there are people in need. We saw it here, during last year’s fires. We see it all across the nation, in small towns and in large cities. It persists, long after the news reporters and the tax dollars spent by government have gone. Remember this. Let the images of sacrifice and cooperation and fellowship sink in. This is truth, and soon enough we will be encouraged to forget it.