This weekend, while enjoying the company of good friends and even better wine, I experienced something I had never experienced before. A moonrise. And it wasn't just any moonrise. It was a full moonrise, powerful and haunting as it scaled a starlit-black sky over the Atlantic ocean.
You may find it strange that I'd never witnessed this beautiful event, or, maybe, you haven't a clue what I am talking about. The truth is, I didn't even know what I was witnessing was possible. In the span of the four minutes it took for the moon to climb up and over the horizon, I had to re-evaluate my understanding of the Earth and its lunar counterpart.
How had I missed such a beautiful event? How had the possibility such an occurrence completely escaped my attention?
I'm not Carl Sagan over here, but I am not exactly Ken Ham either. I pride myself on being well-versed in various aspects of science. I'd even go so far as to say that I'm naturally inclined; it all comes rather easily to me. I am literally in the process of writing a Sci-Fi/Fantasy series on the properties of Earth! So how did I fail to realize something so natural, so common, so blindingly obvious?
The answer is simple. Ignorance.
My close friend Confucius said that real knowledge is knowing the extent of one's ignorance.
Working in combination with a particularly delicious red Zinfandel, my ignorance was violently thrown in my face the night of that moonrise. It was thrown, beaten, flogged, hanged, drawn, and quartered. I may be an intelligent woman, but holy fuck can I be stupid. My only consolation is knowing that I am not the only one who is utterly devoid of common sense in at least some way. Everyone has holes in their knowledge that beg to be filled up, (That sentence ended up somewhere different than where it started) and that's alright. We can't all know everything. But what's unfortunate for the human race is that this ignorance has been both denied (to the detriment of not only the denier's personal growth, but the betterment of society as a whole) and whole-heartedly embraced.
The denial I can at least understand on a philosophical level. People don't like to be wrong or realize how much they don't know about the world. It's people like this that say things like,
"I'm not racist. I have black friends." Or "I want to help homeless people, but they're just going to spend my money on booze." Or "I'm the farthest thing from homophobic. My brother is gay!" Or "I'm not xenophobic...Its just those people's way of life is so different from ours. They don't belong here!" Or "Its not transphobic to be concerned about my children's safety!"
People like this refuse to acknowledge their ignorance. Challenging what they thought they knew can be very overwhelming and distressing to some people.
On the other side of the ignorance coin, we have the people who snuggle up to their ignorance at night and whisper sweet nothings into its ear. They are proud of their ignorance. From these people, you'll hear phrases like,
"I don't mean any harm, its just the way I was raised." Or "I can't help the way I feel." Or "The bible says (insert mistranslated, misinterpreted, or completely incorrect quote)." Or "I'm just too old. I can't change."
This kind of person is usually aware that they don't have pertinent information that could help them understand the things they are ignorant to, but they just don't care. They prefer their world small and comfortable, even if it means completely ignoring that which they could easily come to understand. These types of people aren't necessarily all bad. Ignorance isn't always synonymous with malice. Not all ignorant racists, homophobes, zenophobes etc. are assholes. Their unwillingness to learn makes them a bit not good, but I wouldn't necessarily give them such a harsh label.
Of course, there are the ignorant who boast phrases like, "Make America Great Again," to which my only response would be a defeated sigh and a sad shake of my head, because people like this actually are assholes. They know what they are saying is hurtful. Their motivation is to cause harm to those they deem unworthy of their superior grace. There is nothing that can be done about people like this because they are the kind of assholes that point fingers at everyone but themselves. At least with the other kind of ignorance, the ignorant (whether aware of it or not) mean well. They aren't trying to hurt anyone. The Make America Great Again crowd, do not mean well for anyone but themselves.
(Side note on this campaign slogan that has barreled its way into American vernacular. The imminent danger of this kind of forties-style propaganda is why it is so effective. Preying on the emotions that many lower to middle-class uneducated white men OR highly educated but anti-political correctness (AKA, common decency) white men have felt in these last few decades, is the perfect manipulation for Donald Trump's campaign. The white man has seen a infinitesimal decline in their power and control and they can't stand it. A black man entered the white house. A woman runs against the republican nominee. Gay people can get married. It's illegal to beat the shit of someone just because they are different from you. White athletes are actually seeing some jail time for raping women. To certain kinds of white men, these things are unacceptable. (I say certain kinds because obviously not all white men are like this. However, the kind of white man that will go out of his way to make sure that everyone knows he's not like that (NOT ALL MEN), is doing himself a disservice. Don't tell me you aren't like that and waste my time and your social media presence on making sure everyone knows YOU aren't like that. You are only proving to everyone that you care more about yourself than the greater purpose at hand.) Donald Trump's campaign has preyed on the fears that plague his voting demographic. (They want to take your freedom of speech! They want to blow us up! They want to take your jobs! They want to take your bible!) Unfortunately for those of us with souls (if you believe in that kind of thing), that group of Americans is rather large, obnoxiously loud, and extremely pissed off. They don't want to Make America Great Again. They want to burn her down to the ground and build her back up on the ashes of people like me. They want to destroy the progress we have made towards equality and acceptance. Their fear of becoming irrelevant and powerless pushes them to sweeping statements grounded in ignorance and fueled by hate. I'll say it again, they don't want to Make America Great Again. Let's not mince words.They want to Make America White Again, Make America Straight Again, Make America Christian Again. This is exactly what they want and Donald Trump's campaign has made it obvious as to how he will accomplish this for them.)
Back to the original point.
My ignorance. Your ignorance. All of our ignorance.
It's our jobs as human beings to learn and grow. If we do not learn, we die.
We learned to procreate. We learned to hunt, to gather. To find shelter, make clothing. We learned to read, to write. We became civilized. We fought wars. We danced. We organized religions. We harnessed the power of the sun. We learned how to put IKEA furniture together. Big and small, as human beings we evolved by learning and growing both as individuals and as a society. It is within this growth that we found new ways to coexist with one another, as neighbors, kingdoms, and countries. Throughout history, humans have been faced with many challenges, the results of which determined our futures.
History is a road map for what to expect in the future. Most people would now quote a version of George Santayana's "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," but I much prefer Karl Marx's version for this particular occasion.
"History repeats itself; first as a tragedy, second as farce."
Tragedies. History has seen too many of these. Fueled by hatred, intolerance, politics, and religion, the tragedies bestowed upon the human race are largely of our own doing.
The Holocaust. Holodomor. The Great Crime. The Cambodian genocide. Rwanda. Just these five genocides took the lives of almost ten million people and that is the lowest estimate. You may be thinking that something like that would never happen here. However, many a Nazi soldier would have told you that he didn't understand the implications of Hitler's charismatic platform for making Germany Great Again. The Ottomans responsible for the deportation and deaths of millions of Armenians were only following orders of those far more educated than they were. Tragedies are, unfortunately, overwhelmingly common in the overall timeline of humanity.
Now for the farce. Defined as a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations; An absurd event.
Huh. That sounds vaguely familiar....what or who could that be describ- oh. right.
Hitler was our tragedy. Trump is our farce.
Living comfortably in ignorance, or denying your ignorance to make yourself feel better isn't going to keep history from repeating itself. The mistake is thinking that the farce can't become the next tragedy.
So to the ignorant, I say this to you:
If you are a good person, but comfortable in your ignorance, you are unknowingly aiding those who will prey on what you don't know and use it to their advantage. They will twist your thoughts, your ideas, your fears into a molded platform that looks just like their own, leaving out the overt hatred to sway you to their side. Make no mistake, this is the same platform. It is just wearing a pretty smile and clutching a bible to its chest.
If you are a good person, but completely incapable of acknowledging your ignorance, you need a wake up call. Having black friends doesn't make you the poster boy for race equality. Your gay brother doesn't exempt you from heteronormativity or homophobic remarks. Your concern for your child doesn't make a transgendered person a pedophile. Not acknowledging the things that we not only don't know, but in some cases cant know, only hurts us.
As a privileged, white, cisgender woman there are a lot of things that I will never be able to understand. I have no real knowledge about what it means to be a black man living in America. Or a gay Hispanic man hiding his orientation from his very Catholic family. Or a homeless transgendered woman, kicked out of her house because of who she is. Or a Muslim woman who feels empowered by her headscarf. I barely understand what it means to be me and where I fit in the world, how the hell am I supposed to also be completely aware of all the struggles that people who aren't me go through? It would be impossible! But just because I am not aware, does not mean those issues do not exist, and my ignorance of them does not make them less important.
You can't claim not to be something, if you don't even understand what that something truly means.
It's easy to tell yourself you're not a racist because you don't go around yelling the N word, but the struggle of racism far surpasses that which you might witness in your daily life. The same goes for homophobia. You can claim to be "okay with gay people", but (for example) when you refuse to see homoerotic subtext, or laugh off gay jokes in popular "bromance" pairings, you are perpetuating the heteronormative standard and thereby, however unintentionally, being homophobic.
No one expects anyone to be completely aware of all the issues that plague us socially. We can't realistically walk in each other's shoes long enough to get a good feel for what each of our issues truly consist of. Therefore, it is our responsibility to listen to those who know more than we do. Learn from those who have lessons to teach. Don't assume you know everything just because you aren't a bad person. There are too many walks of life for you to understand everything about everyone.
So here is my advice to the unintentionally ignorant:
Stay in your lane, but talk to those traveling around you.
No matter how many black history courses you took in college, none of your ideas will match up to an actual black person's experiences. No matter how many gay clubs you took your brother to, your support does not mean you understand the pain of what living in a homophobic society feels like. No matter how wide you smile at that woman in her full burka, you will never realize how many frowns and grimaces she was forced to see before your grin.
Some ignorances are innocuous, like my inexperience with moonrises, but others are far more dangerous. Whether on a global or personal level, ignorance can destroy lives. Unfortunately, the reality is that sometimes ignorance is unavoidable, but learning is always available. Stop defending yourself and listen. You will undoubtedly learn something new.
Not only about those around you, but about yourself as well.