Guest Commentary: Violence, Vandalism and the Cost of Losing Grace
By Anjali Reed Phukan
With all the news on violence and vandalism from hate and racist groups recently related to statues of slave owners, the state and American flags, and our national anthem, I feel compelled to give a historical yet novel solution, from a “mixed” perspective.
My hope is people will become more aware of sources of negativity, mitigate and correct its spread, and increase peace and prosperity for all in our great state. The overall answer is giving and accepting grace. This is a complex solution, and probably confusing to some, so I want to explain how I got to this answer.
This topic should be of utmost concern to the Maryland comptroller as a matter of cost. The 2015 riots in Baltimore cost about $20 million, and we didn’t get a lot of federal relief as desired. Even a single statue costs anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 to repair after a single and isolated incident of vandalism.
Lastly, from a numbers perspective, the state and world need to work towards a “zero waste” plan, where we recycle, reduce, and reuse as much as possible, and just throwing statues away is not good for the environment. The greatest cost of all is not quantifiable – bruises in the hearts and minds of all our citizens, and I will go into that throughout this article.
The first thing I learned growing up in a mixed race and mixed ethnicity home was that racial/ethnic sides are never all or nothing; and sometimes not even real. I heard and experienced negative and discriminatory things for what seemed like not being “white enough” by some family on one side, and not Indian enough by some on the other. I also received a lot of positive attention for being American by some Indian family, and for being ethnic from some white family. And, later in life, I was discriminated (and sometimes harshly) by others in society who assumed I was Muslim, when I wasn’t.
Labels for blame are false – we may use them for ease of description, but, unless a group is created to describe a behavior, not everyone in a group probably actually behaves the same all the time. People use labels because they are too scared to look at everyone in both groups for who they really are. (And, from my other life experiences, this holds true for political parties, sports teams, etc. as well).
A TSA officer once said I had explosives in my head scarf, thinking I was Muslim. She shook her head, rolled her eyes, and demonstrated self-resentment for the rest of her search of me and all my belongings when she heard I go to Orthodox Christian services. She didn’t want to see me; she just wanted to categorize and blame others for her own dissatisfaction in life. The ironic thing is, she was black. This isn’t meant to be a judgement, just an observation related to profiling on all sides.
Daryl Davis, a black man and famous musician, regularly makes friends with people in hate groups that traditionally work against his own race. His brilliant theory is to give that person a platform, to allow them to air their views and assume that they will reciprocate. He calls this “accidental courtesy,” also stating, “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting.. If you spend five minutes with your worst enemy.. you will find that you both have something in common. As you build on those commonalities, you’re forming a friendship.”
Many white supremacists have left the clan as a result of friendships with Davis, because they saw the light and converted themselves. I call this “self-help recovery” in its pure form of one helping others help themselves.
I am not exempt from this – I’ve been rude to others different than me, and through my own personal recovery step work realized my own fears are at the center of my bad actions. People make up fears – and I am no different. A white or black person who is rude can just have had a bad day – and the next day do something amazingly nice to me. So I shouldn’t profile all white or black people as rude all the time.
It isn’t always about my skin color. Sometimes the other person is just uneducated, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Yes, I would love it if everything was all about me, but it just isn’t and we all need to get over that sometimes. This is the first active part of the solution: humility.
In my personal recovery work, when I had to look at my character defects and the fears behind them, I started to realize that — just like me — those who’ve been rude to me had fears driving their character defects. A tall strong privileged white man who yells a racial epithet out of his car (less than a year ago I witnessed this situation with my own eyes and ears) is in fact probably scared of something in his life – his job, his girlfriend/wife/lack of either, or his expenses, and he’s misdirecting the anger.
Understanding that person’s fear, and reducing it, can truly cause peace for them and those that interact with them. For this to happen, the person with fear has to be willing to learn. Willingness to learn first requires acceptance of not knowing something, and that requires humility, especially in adults.
Personal trials are possibly “callings” to learn or teach. The definition of Grace, in my book, is being given redemption when I don’t deserve it, or forgiveness, when it’s not earned. An easy way to be able to offer grace to someone is to realize they literally “know not what they do,” as Jesus, doing what many call the most important thing, is quoted for saying. Accepting grace can be just as difficult as giving it, also partly because it requires humility to acknowledge it is grace – but it can be just as rewarding.
Being harshly discriminated for being Muslim when I was not led me to learn about their amazing culture. I don’t agree with it all, but I do fast for Ramadan now – and it helps me regain focus on other desired spiritual fasts. I also never would have experienced rose water tea, homemade baklava, or other great ethnic foods if I had not been judged wrong by others first – truly a miracle! I also learned about high PTSD, alcoholism and suicide rates of police (and military) during a period in which I was harassed by some (but not all) of them. I’m dedicating a portion of my time now to bring peace to this regularly ignored situation of law-enforcement stress. I don’t know if I’ll become a famous or as productive as Daryl Davis, but the least I can do is lovingly try.
If I can’t accept that others have faults and love them anyway (grace), I can’t accept my own faults; and that is no happy place to be. Without happiness inside, I tend to look for things outside to hurt or ingest, further harming me. Some people disagree with that; but they tend to be unhappy in general, inflicting self-harm, unaware of what and why they are doing what they are doing. I’ve received some grace, and if I forget that, I lose peace; something I am unwilling to do, today.
Coming back to a cost efficient solution to hate groups, I think people on all sides should become humble and full of enough grace to sit down, talk, listen, learn, accept, reflect, and come to amicable solutions. This can reduce violence in general, as well as vandalism, misplaced resources (trash), and other bad behaviors that can be costly to government infrastructure, community/family relationships, and personal souls.
Anjali Reed Phukan is seeking the Republican nomination for comptroller of Maryland in the 2018 election. Her campaign website is mscomptroller.weebly.com.