Sticks and Stones or Civility: Words Have Consequences

“The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one…I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator; by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

As a society, we are in the habit of forgetting unpleasant historical events.  As a recent Harper’s Magazine article put it, an “American tendency… is that we like to imagine ourselves always making the right moral choice; hence we prefer to hear about times and places when people could do so.”

We are dismayed that everyone does not love Americans and shocked that some hate us. We develop a historical amnesia toward anything we don’t want to hear about.

The result is a lack of introspection that reinforces feelings of American exceptionalism. The act of forgetting prevents meaningful dialogue and induces a state of denial.

That is why I seriously doubt that we’ll learn much from the tragic events in Tucson, Arizona—I hope that I am wrong.  If no dialogue takes place, we will continue to delude ourselves that everything is okay and believe that Americans can’t make mistakes—God is guiding them.

One of the few lucid voices during the recent Tucson shootings was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik who simply said that words have consequences.

Dupnik got clobbered by Conservative commentator, Michelle Malkin, who called Dupnik a “blowhard” and “the worst sheriff in America.” Rush Limbaugh seconds Malkin saying that the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, has the “full support” of the Democratic Party.

We are all responsible for our words and actions. It is a no-brainer; we live in a complex society and we have the duty to be civil. We have entered the Twilight Zone where many believe the children’s chant “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.”  However, tragedies, such as the one in Arizona, prove that words can provoke others to break your bones.

No one is saying that vitriolic rhetoric was the immediate cause of the shooting. What we are saying is that hate speech incites people, and it has been politically rewarding to Republicans.

In just four years, extremists have taken over the Arizona legislature and the majority of federal offices in the state. Currently moderates are being driven out of the Republican Party, forced to resign their posts.

Arizona is a free for all with no legal restraints. Slander and libel have become the norm.

In civilized states, we are protected from untrue statements – you have the recourse of suing the perpetrator.  However, this is not the case with elected officials in Arizona.

Politicians say what they want –true or not—and they are for all intents and purposes immune. The public follows their example and resorts to slander to get their way, or worse, get a quick adrenalin fix.

In this way the truth is obfuscated by the “big lie” that Adolph Hitler talked about. As I have said, in order for a correction to take place, a dialogue must be set in motion.  This dialogue has to go beyond opinion and emotion.

One of my main concerns is Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s use of the “big lie” about my book “Occupied America,” which he uses to justify his war on La Raza Studies.

Horne accuses me of lying because I said the U.S. invaded Mexico. Well, I guess Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln and a consensus of historians are liars. Thus far the media has let him get away with it and not asked him to produce his sources.

Horne has said that I am unpatriotic. I am a Korean War veteran, who forfeited my student exemption, while Horne avoided military service in Vietnam.

Moreover, what credentials does Horne have in evaluating La Raza Studies?

For the past fifty years the Mexican American community has sought a solution to the horrendous dropout problem. It advocated bilingual education, and then Chicana/o studies as pedagogical tools to stem the dropouts.

The program has reversed the Mexican American dropout rate, which is about 60 percent nationally. For students in the program, the dropout rate is 2.5 percent with 66 percent of their students going on to college, versus 24 percent nationally.

Wouldn’t a serious educator want to know what they are doing right before eliminating this promising program? Why are Latinos being singled out?

Arizona Republicans should also know that Mexican Americans have feelings and are highly insulted by the persistent anti-immigrant rhetoric. Many of the things that they say about immigrants are racist and inflammatory.

There can be a solution only as long as it is based on dialogue, and not based on lies or assumptions.