The Rhetoric of Separatism

By Don Hall

I remember, in high school, a family that lived a bit on the outskirts of town. The Chandlers. They were dirt poor white people and the parents had so many fucking kids, they named them alphabetically. I don't know all of their names but the kid I went to school with was named Harold.  His older sister was Glynnis. Harold was the eighth kid.

Harold was not a bright high schooler. He was frequently unwashed. His clothes were fourth generation hand me downs. And, because we were in high school and in Kansas (but mostly because we were in high school) we treated Harold like shit. Not because of his appearance so much as because he was a Chandler. A Chandler was poor, white trash. While most of us had never even seen any other Chandlers in our lives, the ease of lumping the whole family into this category to paint with that broad brush of disdain and prejudgment was the kind of easy reserved for the dumbest people in society—namely teenagers.

I would love for this recollection to include some magical moment whereby Harold was such a good human being, an instance when he had done something noble or selfless, that we all learned a lesson from treating him horribly. I wish I could say that but I can't.

Harold was just a dumb kid with some criminal tendencies and was a bit of an asshole. Thirty-five years later, I can say that I wish he hadn't been. It would make it a better story if we had discovered that he or Glynnis or Ferris had been secretly feeding the homeless or taking care of abused animals. There is the argument to be made that our continued treatment only helped to pigeonhole Harold into an inability to rise above his being a Chandler. Whatever the reasons behind it, Harold was unremarkably dull and angry.

In spite of that fact, our prejudice was ignorant and unjustified. Even if all of the Chandlers were dumb and criminal and assholes, our simple-minded broad strokes decision that they were all the same is the rhetoric of hatred and bigotry. It is the rhetoric of separatism.

The fecundity of division is easy. Is someone black? They go in the Black Category. Wearing a blue uniform? Racist Thug Category. White? White Supremicist Category. That rhetoric, however, is only good for inciting division. And division is the opposite of the solutions to create and maintain a fair and just society for every single one of us.

The internet has become a special place for ideologues and prima donnas to spout their self aggrandizing bullshit in order to divide us up so that they can increase their brand potential. There are so many online using the rhetoric of division in broad, ugly strokes that it becomes difficult to even see and hear past it all. Just like wearing a pink ribbon declares solidarity against Breast Cancer and coloring your profile picture with the rainbow indicates solidarity with Gay Pride, the moniker of #BlackLivesMatter is a sign of solidarity with a segment of our people under siege. To use that activism as a way to divide us into an Us vs. Them mentality is grotesque.

Solidarity. Unity. It's the only solution.