For those of you who monitor the National Calendar of Days / Months on a regular basis, you’ll know the month of November was National Adoption Month, National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and National Georgia Pecan Month, in addition to almost fifty other designations. You can read the full list here.
Back at the beginning of November, or maybe even the end of October, someone posted on Twitter to celebrate November as National Read a Classic Month. October is National Book Month, I guess they must have wanted to keep the reading love flowing. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who made the original suggestion, or I’d link back to his or her site. I did think it was a grand idea and added it to my calendar, in addition to NaNoWriMo. At the time, I focused on the novel. If I could pull it off, I’d read a classic or two.
Then life happened.
Once I received word about my sister, I couldn’t write. While I ended up not even starting NaNoWriMo, I did find a little time to read. I’ve been reading two classics, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (on my phone’s Kindle app) and Animal Farm by George Orwell (a hardcover I borrowed from the library; one of the few books available in English). November has come and gone. On December 1st, I was still reading both. It would take another few days, but over the weekend, I finished Animal Farm. Like everyone who reads the book, I found myself dwelling on the period of history where dictators ruled (one could argue the book is just as important today as it was in 1945 for some countries). But what I found most interesting about Orwell’s fairy story wasn’t the message of the book, it was the path to publication, along with his notes.
Four publishers turned down the satire of the Stalin-led Soviet Union. At one point, Orwell considered self-publishing the tale (sound familiar?). Finally accepted at a small publishing house, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., printing was delayed for over a year. The publisher claimed war-time levels of paper, while Orwell believed it may have been a stalling tactic to wait until the war had ended.
In the appendix of my library copy, I found some chilling words. Words that are surprisingly applicable today and have probably been relevant every year before, and every year after, Orwell wrote them. In a lost preface, the author wrote about the rejection he received and says this (underline mine):
“But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the MOI or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.” Orwell, George, Appendix 1 (‘The Freedom of the Press’), Animal Farm (the Estate of the late Sonia Brownell Orwell, 1987), 98.
I’ll cut in and say how lucky we are to live during a time where publishers and editors can no longer hold back a voice if they disagree with it. The only group who has control over information these days is the general public. In the same paragraph, Orwell goes on to say:
“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.” Orwell, George, Appendix 1 (‘The Freedom of the Press’), Animal Farm (the Estate of the late Sonia Brownell Orwell, 1987), 98.
I love how he cuts to the chase about the news organizations, too.
“So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.” Orwell, George, Appendix 1 (‘The Freedom of the Press’), Animal Farm (the Estate of the late Sonia Brownell Orwell, 1987), 99.
One could argue journalists today aren’t under the same restrictions they were years ago. I’d argue they are. Most news stories are based on which links you, average Jill and average Joe, follow. Every time you click on a story on the internet, that particular news item goes up in rank. Every time a hashtag trends on Twitter, a flood of new articles is released linking back to that hashtag. Popular opinion drives the news (I’ll throw this in here, don’t complain about all the Kardashian stories, simply stop clicking on them). If a journalist wanted to write against the grain, he or she would most likely lose a job.
Later Orwell again says:
“A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.” Orwell, George, Appendix 1 (‘The Freedom of the Press’), Animal Farm (the Estate of the late Sonia Brownell Orwell, 1987), 99.
It’s almost as if the tables are turned. Before, a small group decided which voices were heard. Now, a large group decides which voices to silence, at least within the past sixty years or so. These words are constant reminders for me when social issues rise up. We, as emotional creatures, respond to what we perceive are injustices. Easy to forget every side in every situation has a story. Perhaps you’ve even heard the old adage about how that’s actually wrong. Noteworthy events have at least three sides, if not more. One for each of the subjects, and one for the truth which usually lies between them. Unfortunately, we typically end up reading and promoting one. There’s a smaller percentage who reads both sides with an open mind. Very few make it to the third story, the one where truth lives. One out of three isn’t good. That means there are two sides left which haven’t been given equal consideration, and the truth is one of them.
Over the weekend, three friends on my personal Facebook, something I keep separate from my social presence and use solely for my personal contacts, posted on their timeline saying things like, ‘It’s easy to see who’s racist. Just watch and see who supports police officers.’ Are we passing out labels and preconceived notions now? Because I thought we had fought so hard against that.
I’m confused as to when disagreement became the definition for racism. I’m confused why I’m only hearing one voice in the media. I’m confused why when I want to analyze the evidence, because that’s how my brain works, I’m labeled racist. I’m confused why when I want to recreate a man lunging from his police car, leaning not only out, but also up, so he can grab a man around the neck, with his weak arm, while his other arm is lunging for his gun, all while the suspect is trying as hard as he can to get away, I’m lumped into the racist category. Which is odd, because when I look up the word racism I find this:
noun \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also –ˌshi-\
: poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race
I happen to want to analyze evidence. I have a logical mind. The one has nothing to do with the other. And if I believe in the evidence, why does that determine if I’m racist or not? I’d still believe in the evidence if all the subjects were Caucasian, Asian, African-American, or Martians. I’m not looking at race when I think about these cases. I’m looking at the evidence. Period.
Unlike most of the general public, I know how evidence works first hand. I don’t need the newspapers to pick and choose which details to feed me. I graduated valedictorian of the police department. I understand the elements of a crime. I’ve studied bullet trajectory. I know how bullets impact stationary targets and moving targets. I know how much time it takes to turn around between bullets. I have experience recreating the events and noting the discrepancies between what we want to believe happened, what could have happened, and what could not have happened. I’ve been trained to analyze witness statements based upon years and years of research. I’m familiar with studying witness statements, verb tenses, stress markers, and other psychological effects, how statements change, and yes, how some witnesses on both sides, well-meaning citizens that they are, sometimes weren’t even in the vicinity of the crime (this goes for almost every crime, by the way. Fun to find out your witness was in another city at the time of the crime). I also know mistakes happen and yes, racism does exist. It’s not a given that it existed in every situation, though (Side note: by the way, I imagine most police officers would LOVE to wear cameras).
For me, a bigger issue is why no one seems to be searching for the truth, because they’ve already decided what the truth is. I thought that’s what we fought for, the truth. I had this idealistic impression truth trumped everything. I mean, if someone accused you of a crime, wouldn’t you want someone on your side whose sole purpose was to search for the truth? I know I would. Most of the articles I’ve seen aren’t digging for what happened. They’re saying, ‘Shame on the Police.’ We skipped the whole truth process and went straight to judgment.
And I’m really uncomfortable with some of the attacks on personal character from what I believed were my friends launched on anyone who questions the prevailing status quo. Are we really at that point? Doesn’t that frighten you? At what point will it? Each of us should ask ourselves those questions. You don’t have to ask them out loud in a blog post, or at your office if you fear retaliation, but in the silence of your head, where you’re honest with yourselves, ask those questions. What if you chose to believe something based on your own individual analysis of it and everyone judged you because you didn’t agree with them? Is that what we teach our children? Is that how we accomplish change for social injustice, or for any purpose? “Agree with me or else!” That stinks of something that should cause us, as humans who strive for peace and equality, to tremble.
I guess I imagined a conversation would take place. You believe this, I believe that. Let’s talk about it. Because we’re adults. And that’s what we do. We don’t throw truth down a ditch. Because it’s important and if ever you need someone to find truth, you’ll know that as a human race, we still value it. At the same time, we acknowledge there are other truths that need to be discussed. Truths about injustice. But we don’t forsake the one for the other. We discuss both. We don’t play on emotion, because the details get lost. We must also remember not to get so bogged down in details we can’t see the emotion, because people’s lives are at stake. We meet each other halfway. When we realize we’re speaking different languages, we try to find a common one we can both understand.
I thought this would happen. It didn’t. Maybe fear, or unfair, derogatory labeling keeps people from talking about it. Maybe we should create an environment where discussion can take place. Maybe that starts with acknowledging people may, or may not, agree with you. Let’s go from there.
I know the issue is bigger than this blog post and I’m not about to tackle it today. But the blatant judgment from people I believed were friends shocked me. When I read Orwell’s words, I treasured them. I take great heart knowing the master storyteller sometimes felt what I’m feeling. You know, almost seventy years after he wrote that preface, dissenting voices on any issue still have a hard time finding listeners, but I couldn’t be in better company.