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When you were a kid, did you ever wish you could just erase (or delete) somebody you didn’t like having in your life—as though you were living in a sketched cartoon? You were a nice person, so you didn’t really want to hurt him or her. But a quick, easy deletion…wouldn’t that have looked attractive in your imagination? What if that person provided a service you needed, a service that still didn’t justify their having an equal presence with yours? Could you erase only enough to make him or her hard to see? Did you do anything to act on your urge?
Humankind has frequently used erasure—in real terms that meant killing or physically and emotionally belittling the offensive party or parties. Royalty and other leaders murdered or imprisoned competitors. Political, religious, or ethnic groups attempted total genocide. In civil wars, brothers and sisters rose up against siblings who didn’t agree. Erasure. Ugly and barbaric. How did that serve humankind?
The recent revelations of the mass graves of indigenous children beside schools where people recognized as religious or other responsible authorities were supposed to be caring for them exposed the terrible truth that the schools were meant to erase cultures the whites thought were inferior. Americans can’t look down on Canadians, because they acted on the same impulses. No one saw the abuses—even the sexual abuses—because no one wanted to see them—just as we hate to see abuses by people in “positions of trust” today. But good words and holy clothes don’t guarantee the wearers are thoroughly good people. They simply look the part. And who cared about the charade? The white culture was secretly hoping to erase the indigenous cultures because they didn’t like them.
When the Germans did what others in the world had only muttered about and tried to eliminate people with disabilities plus all people from racial or religious traditions they didn’t approve such as Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholics…when the Germans lit their ovens for mass murder, how did that purify them as the “chosen race?”
Recently, I see many state legislatures working to marginalize their nonwhite voting populations in order to cement absolute control. They want to erase people that white ancestors forced to come here, forced them to mix their DNA with whites. Now they want to erase them and their descendants…until they’re like smudges on the pages of American history. Many are also trying to belittle Asian-Americans and Muslims and LGBTQIA while they haven’t ceased trying to fade Indigenous cultures. Some are even trying to erase anyone—of any race, culture, gender, or creed—who intimidates them by being well educated, progressive, or merely willing to disagree. Many have convinced themselves that erasing the personhood of those who have differing beliefs will elevate their own. How has that worked in history? How do they think that will work in the future?
There is an unofficial movement in the world that counters the surge of chest-pounding nationalism and self-deception. Many have discovered the power of their empathy—their capacity for feeling with other people, for understanding plights unlike their own, for realizing the phrase “thy neighbor” doesn’t come with exceptions. Many are realizing that life extends beyond the borders of their present situations. They feel a swelling of community and shared issues. They know now there is no winning or losing except on a personal level. What you do or say is what you are. Our futures are intertwined but not the same. The most agonizing suffering comes from betraying yourself.