When I returned to the U.S. shortly after 9/11 I started noticing a lowering of racial tensions in the city where I live. “They’re not the enemy anymore”, one of my neighbors explained, they being code for blacks. The new enemy of course being Arabs. One of my Arab neighbors living in the SRO down the street with the alkies and addicts was so nervous he starting calling himself Sam instead of Usama and went so far as to wear a large cross even though he told me he was Moslem.
But lately I have started noticing little things that make me wonder if women are about to become the new targets of hate. The latest was in the school’s computer room this week. I was at one screen working on a project, someone I recognized as an instructor was intent on another screen, and the computer tech was doing whatever computer techs do, when a young guy I had never seen before came in, very talkative. He smugly started talking about how he hated women, as if he was just continuing a conversation already in progress. Maybe this is the time to talk about hate speech, I remarked, also discrimination, racial predjudice and stereotyping. The other adults were suddenly quite intent on their computer screens. No one would meet my eyes. The young guy continued on in the same vein. Oh, you’re one of the good ones, he assured me. Turning back to my computer screen I remembered the old definition of a “good Indian”. His friend had a collection of “feminist jokes,” he added self-importantly. No one responded, and he wandered out again.
Remember the ending of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? At the river the hero, Montag, has lost his pursuers with their helicopters and cameras, but the chase continues. Here it is on page 148. At the river, Montag has met up with the book underground, who just happen to be watching the chase on a extra battery-powered screen. “They’re faking. You threw them off at the river. They can’t admit it. They know they can only hold their audience so long. The show’s got to have a snap ending, quick! If they started searching the whole damn river it might take all night. So they’re sniffing for a scapegoat to end things with a bang. Watch. They’ll catch Montag in the next five minutes.” Sure enough, they find someone else to chase down, scramble the image of the face and kill him on screen.
I can never think of the nation’s foreign policy switch from bin Laden to Iraq without remembering this scene. Maybe hate is frigible. We lose bin Laden, we find Saddam. Congress debates our involvement with Iraq, so we look for a new group to hate. Lincoln said a house divided against itself could not stand; are we about to choose an internal target–women– for our latest enemies’ list?
A fragment of a Kris Kristofferson song keeps going through my mind: “reckon they’d just nail him up if he came down again, cuz everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than at any time they please”….