Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Am I Missing?

In the past week, I've been reading In the Garden of Beasts, a book set in 1933-1934 Germany. The book discusses William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany as Hitler rose in power. He and his family have to sort out what is true and who is telling the truth in a critical age of shadowy figures and subterfuge. This in non-fiction.

As I read In the Garden of Beasts, I'm disheartened by the correspondence that goes back and forth between high powered American government officials and regular civilians that ignores or downplays Germany's actions against Jews and other "unclean" races. Not only do people seem to dismiss the allegations, very often the letters reveal confessions of personal ambivalence or outright antagonism toward Jewish people. The main concern of the American government is primarily Germany's potential default on war and reconstruction debts and, secondarily, Germany's failure to reduce their armaments. The people who sound the trumpets about the plans toward Aryan supremacy and ethnic cleansing are dismissed as exaggerating or misunderstanding the work a few ruffians. The ambassador's daughter, Martha, even believes that the comments are rumors directed at keeping Germany down because the wonderful country and people of her experience cannot be participating in systemic violence.

I also went with friends to The Help, a movie based on the book with the same name. My bookclub read this book last July, before there were rumors of the movie. The Help deals with the complex relationships and the power dynamics between white employers and African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties. (That is a GLOSS if there ever was one.)

In The Help, a young white woman is encouraged to interview and write about the experience of as many black maids as she can before the whole "civil rights thing blows over". In the backdrop of the story, Medgar Evers is killed and instructions for non-violent resistance are beginning to spread. Simultaneously, the Junior League is raising money for "starving children in Africa" as well as promoting a "health initiative" to encourage the help to have their own bathrooms- "for health reasons".

All this makes me think, "What am I missing?" What's going on today that will be obvious to my son or grandchild, but I'm missing. Which emails have I glanced past asking for my help that are the actual issues of my generation?

I know I can't do everything. True story. Is there ethnic cleansing happening in the world today? Yes. Have we moved into a new era of racial understanding? Not so much. Are there starving children in Africa, Asia, Anchorage? Yes. Are there regimes to oppose? Yes. Is it likely that I pass by people each day who are affected by sex trafficking, drug sales, poverty, mental illness, stop-loss, wage freezes, reductions-in-force (laid off), and lack of education? Yes.

I think of the things I know I care about and they are mostly related to my own experience. Then I know there are things that cross my mind occasionally, usually because they are important to someone who is important to me. Then there are a wealth of things that I don't notice (or that I might contribute to) because I'm not looking. Or worse, because I dismiss them, believing they are minor and will blow over soon. Is there something obvious that I'm missing?

Again, I can't do everything. (I'm telling myself that, not you.) However, what I'm watching and reading these days has me re-evaluating what I am doing. You?

1 comment:

Anna said...

I really REALLY love this post. It's something that I've wondered and thought about more than once. Thanks for putting eloquence to my thoughts :)