First, They Came…


By Vivian Blevins

Contributing Columnist

A friend recently told me that she needed a Black man who helps her with tasks that she is not presently able to do to take on the challenge of grocery shopping for her. When she accompanies him, they are treated appropriately, but when he goes alone – not so much. She later informed me that he politely refused to go. Unless I have somehow missed the passing of time, 2023 is at our doorstep.

I’ve been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and to a small Holocaust museum on the waterfront in Chicago. There is a third place where I walked down a sidewalk with engravings on the walk of the following words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)

Our beloved country has a history of individuals and groups accosting/polarizing/ostracizing various persons they perceive as “other.” These attempt to dehumanize those who are unlike us warrant a few questions and comments from me and perhaps a civil discussion with your friends and family.

My first question is the following: Do you have family members and friends who are in a long list of those who are being pelted today with ugly words and gestures and/or violent actions? Women, Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Democrats, Republicans, LGBTQIA+, immigrants, emigrants, those having special needs, etc. Have you ever failed to speak out because you were not in one of these categories of other?

I knew a white, educated, middle class man when I lived in Texas who, when he observed such behaviors, would say to the offender, “He/she is with me.”

Second Comment: You are free to hate/dislike anyone. I view that as a waste of time, but the choice it up to you. You could spend those human resources in doing something for persons you don’t hate/dislike or step outside your comfort zone and do something with or for persons in your hate/dislike category. Maybe you will have the experience that Dr. Seuss’ character, the Grinch, had.

Next Question: Do your words or behaviors encourage the young ones in your sphere of influence to embrace your position? Do you realize that unless those children grow up to live in a cave, they are going to bear the brunt of your failure to realize that the world is complex, diverse? The census projects that in 2045 the U.S. will be minority white. For younger Americans, that has already occurred.

Consider the battle cries of white nationalists, “You will not replace us.” I wonder why would anyone living in the U.S. would want to divorce him/herself from half the population?

Comment: This one is especially important for workers in the U.S. You might have noticed on television commercials that the actors are diverse. Those marketing products from whiskey to baby products know that ethnic/racial minorities have money to spend, so in addition to ethical/moral rightness, pragmatism reigns.

And even though the U.S. Congress is still largely male and white, have you noticed that women and minorities are now populating this august body and assuming leadership roles in the Senate and House? Does it make good sense to begin to understand and embrace the diversity of those who will be examining older laws and introducing new legislation, actions that will impact you, directly or indirectly? In addition to national officeholders, consider local, state, and district officials, elected or appointed, as well.

I would never say that the challenges we face are going to be easy. They are complex and complicated, fraught with the need for new solutions with education, civil discourse, and compromise. There are mavericks on the right and left with axes to grind, and we must not let them deter us.

I believe that many Americans are up to the tasks that lie before us. Yes, we have made and will continue to make missteps, and our history is rife with examples of human frailty and failure, but I remain optimistic as we work to preserve our democracy. An authoritarian government can overthrow what so many have worked long to bring into existence, per the preamble to the U.S. Constitution- “a more perfect union.” Let’s face 2023 with a commitment to help chart this path with our words and actions.

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