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  • Writer's pictureCatherine White

Vibing with Cat White

Where’s Your Line?

I recently watched the documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust”, a powerful series by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, that examines America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 20th century. It ain’t pretty and America doesn’t come off looking good.

Of course, I knew this. While high school history, as I recall, glossed over America’s early response to Germany’s brutal attempts to exterminate an entire ethnic group, in college I learned that, even after gaining knowledge of the Nazi’s atrocities, America was slow to lend aid and provide refuge to those desperately seeking safety from genocide. Not one of America’s proudest moments yet it is certainly something that should be remembered and taught, lest Americans forget the depths of depravity that sprouted from just having “differences of opinion” and an “America First” mentality.

Recently, I unfriended someone on Facebook. Someone I’ve known for about two decades. It wasn’t easy and, yeah, it was related to politics. I’m definitely sad and disappointed that our friendship couldn’t survive our differences of opinion. Which begs the question – where do we draw the line? At what point do we stop overlooking our differences, whatever they may be, and start really considering that the opinions of our friends and family aren’t just harmless differences of opinion?

What I found striking while watching “The U.S. and the Holocaust” was how similar the Americans’ attitudes were towards Jews seeking refuge in the United States during the years leading up to and into World War II, to those currently coming to this country’s borders seeking asylum. It’s unsettling to think that, after the horrors of World War II and the rise of Nazism, this country finds itself in similar circumstances, behaving in the exact same appalling manner. It’s disheartening that, either Americans haven’t learned their history, or they know exactly what they’re doing and truly don’t care.

I’m left wondering, “Where’s the line?”, and contemplating, “Where’s MY line?”

If you’ve kept up with my columns you know that I grew up in public housing. We got government cheese and used food stamps growing up. My mom raised three kids, basically, by herself, in Elmira in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Yes, thankfully, we had an amazing village of family and friends that helped as they could. Even so, my mom still needed government assistance to provide my brother, sister and I food and shelter.

I know several people on my “Friends” list that look down on people who need government assistance. The idea that one would judge and deny assistance to their fellow human beings in a time of need seems cruel to me. When those folks post their demeaning and grossly uninformed memes, I know I’m supposed to “just scroll by” but … why? Why would I want to ignore the sentiments of someone who thinks that poor people (aka ME and my family) didn’t deserve compassion and help when we were in need?

Again, I grew up surrounded by poor people. Poor people of every skin color and religion. The overwhelming majority of them were hardworking, neighborly people whose lives hit a rough patch or their jobs weren’t adequate to keep them independent during times of national economic volatility.

Why would I ignore a friend who thinks that poor people are lazy and stupid so they, therefore, deserve to be in the dire straits they’re in?

Of course, we’re all entitled to our opinions and I don’t have a problem with differing perspectives from mine. However, when should differing perspectives affect a relationship?

For example, should I overlook someone who posts pro-insurrectionist propaganda? I watched the January 6th debacle, live. If you support law and order, you should be denouncing those that stormed the U.S. Capitol just as much as you decried riots during the Black Lives Matter protests (many of which were actually started by right-wing extremist groups), shouldn’t you? Yet, only 13% of Republicans now call the Jan. 6 riot an insurrection, and less than half of conservatives even think it was a riot.

Why would I not call out the Republicans complaining about President Biden’s supposedly divisive comments about GOP rhetoric of “riots in the streets” and Civil War, when they promote that divisive and “un-American” propaganda themselves?

Not calling that type of rhetoric out just leads to more dangerous conflict, as it seems happened back in the 1930s and 40s.

At what point do we draw the line? What’s real and what’s “just joking”?

I’ll say that, early on, I was a lot more reckless with my social media posts. Now, if I’m posting about a serious topic, it’s been researched. I have back-up links and I’m ready for discussion. I’ve found that most people would rather not engage, and those that do either resort to “whataboutism”, project their own fear and ignorance onto me, or they agree with me but “just think the whole system is broken and it doesn’t matter who’s in office so they’re going to keep voting for the same crooks.”

The past few years have given me many opportunities to question the sincerity of my friendships. How could they really consider me to be a friend if they truly believe that Black Lives Matter and Antifa are terrorist leftist organizations in the same way that I truly believe the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Trump supporters are, mostly, traitorous nativists hell-bent on igniting a Civil War? Wouldn’t I be the “enemy” in their eyes? Why would people with that viewpoint want to be my friend?

It’s unsettling to be facing the same dilemmas our ancestors faced back when contemplating Civil War, and again, as Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power. History hinging on the same tough questions – Where do you draw the line, and what happens if you don’t?

FYI ...

Check your local listings for encore broadcasts of “The U.S. and the Holocaust” on PBS. It’s a thought-provoking series that everyone should see, starting at high school level.

Be sure to visit the PBS website, especially if you’re watching with youngsters, as there’s a teaching guide that will be helpful for adults who need assistance/guidance in answering some hard questions that may get asked.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.


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