Today we had a video-presentation by Marlan Lavanhar.
He opened with the line that learning was important, but sometimes we have to unlearn what we have been taught. What you can unlearn is as important as what you can Learn.
Rev Lavanhar had recently made a trip to Romania. There is a sizable Hungarian group of people in the county, encapsulated there by the changing boarders of countries back in history. There is very little mixing between members of the Romanian and Hungarian communities. In fact, there is quite a lot of xenophobiabetween the two communities. Members of each community are taught that the members of the other community is dangerous. And when you teach this to your children in many subtle ways, it turns out that children believe you. When those children grow up, they continue to believe it. Mr. Lavanhar discovered that the Romanians and Hungarians teach the same events in history, but they fight over the facts and the meaning of what facts that they do agree on.
It turns out that every culture seems to do this. Every culture has a story about how diversity has come to exist and why your group is better. In fact, this diversity is part of God’s plan, and that only your group is favored. Those other people are dangerous.
It might be easy for an American who has had dealings with both sides, Romanian and Hungarian, to see that the Romanians are not dangerous people nor are the Hungarians dangerous people. However, we are doing the same things ourselves.
We teach different versions of history to our children too. How many people know that in 1845, the United States of America declared war on Mexico on the basis of some very flimsy evidence of harm done to Americans? (Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln as a member of Congress protested the illegality of the war that James K. Polk had declared.) As a result of the war, the U.S. absorbed half of Mexico and took it to be U.S. Territory. Almost everything from Texas to California was seized. This is how a family living in Texas in 1845 can find themselves to be American citizens today… the boarder moved. Nevertheless, our particular brand of xenophobia against people of Hispanic heritage will cause such people to have to prove their citizenship on a regular basis when driving in traffic in boarder states. The Mexican population views the events of 1845 very differently than we do. It might serve us well to sometimes unlearn that Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and much of Colorado is ‘naturally’ part of the United States.
There are similar stories that can be told about the African American culture. Most of America is not taught about the real face of Slavery or the ugliness of race riots in which blacks were slaughtered. In the general culture we don’t teach people about these events. We do subtly teach fear of the “other” however. It is easy to see it when it is being done between Romanians and Hungarians and very hard to see it when we do it to ourselves.
In Iraq and in Afghanistan we see ourselves as heroes who bring Democracy. It is not understood at all in America that the people of those countries view the U.S. Army as an invading and occupying force. Oddly enough, our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, does not say that we believe that all people should live in a representative democracy. Our founding document says that the people who live in a place should be the ones who decide on how they should govern themselves.
Sometimes we should unlearn what we think we know.