“It’s a paradox we call reality/ So keepin’ it real will make you casualty of abnormal normality…”
Lately I am increasingly reminded of these words, spoken by Talib Kweli of Black Star in their song “Respiration.” If you watch the news or read the papers, you can find numerous examples of warped reality, through reports that make minimal reference to facts or that manipulate language or context to give them different meaning. We live in a world where seeing the paradoxes of our reality and acknowledging the presence of different realities make you become what Kweli calls “a casualty of abnormal normality.” As he points out, even the very concept of reality is paradoxical. We all see it as a concrete, finite thing, but in actuality, reality is one of the most abstract concepts. Reality looks different depending on whose eyes are observing it.
When I see reality in this country, I see troubling contradictions. I see a place where the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has inflicted much terror in history, has numerous public rallies a year, yet people of Arab descent who might be associated with terrorism are deported or detained. I see a place where we violate international law by starting a war with Iraq and then try their leader for war crimes.
I see a place where our government gives a known criminal destructive weapons to do our dirty work, then years later bombs his country for having possession of those same weapons.
I see a place where the government denounces rap music for using profanity and containing macho, chauvinistic messages, yet our vice president tells Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy “go f--- himself” when he asks about Cheney’s involvement in oil companies, and the governor of California calls politicians “girly men” when they don’t “have guts.”
I see a place where we build jails instead of schools, and in some cities, a young black boy in elementary school doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in class when he reaches high school, yet his spot in prison is waiting for him.
I see a place where news reporter Dan Rather is asked to resign because of faulty evidence in his reporting on Bush’s shady National Guard record, but the President of the United States is not asked to resign after using faulty evidence to start a war that has killed 1,053 Americans (with a modest estimate of the Iraqi death toll being at least five times more).
I see a place where a person who possesses 50 grams of crack gets a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, but a person possessing the same amount of cocaine (the form of the drug that wealthier, usually white consumers prefer) walks free, a place where it takes at least 100 times more cocaine than that to get jail time. I see a place where we learn in history class that our country is the only one to ever actually use a weapon of mass destruction, yet our country is the one policing the world for them.
Yet when many people see me, or listen to me talk, they see a “radical.” I’m seen as “unpatriotic,” in a place where patriotism has come to mean not questioning, not challenging, not asking for justice. It’s almost unbelievable to me, that people who ask for accountability, people who ask for truth and people who ask for equity are seen as extreme, yet people who promote war, people who support the rich on the backs of the poor and people who choose profit over integrity can be see as the patriots. Sometimes I even wonder if I’m living in some sort of twilight zone. I wonder how people who see what I see are seen as the crazy ones. But then I remember the words of Akira Kurosawa that a friend one shared with me, “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” These are just the casualties people must endure for “keepin’ it real” and refusing to view the world through the rose-colored glasses our government and media provide us with.
I see a place where many people have no idea or interest in what happened in real life yesterday, but everyone knows what happened on reality television last night. Often I wonder why this is. Maybe it’s because people just don’t want to see certain realities. Maybe it’s because it’s more pleasant to ignore the realities in which thirty percent of your neighbors have AIDS, or ones in which all you know about the United States is that it dropped the bomb that killed your brother or it imposed sanctions that add to your family’s starvation, so joining a group that targets them makes sense to you. Maybe it’s because, in a world like this, it’s certainly more pleasant to imagine at least this country as we’d like it to be —“an example for all nations,” a place where opportunity is spilling over for everyone.
Or perhaps it’s because it’s easier to imagine it that way than to actually work on making that a reality.
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Amelia Herbert is a Trinity senior.