Op-EdOpinion

WILLIAMS: Freedom

It’s hard to believe and even sadder to have to admit that naturalized citizens are more knowledgeable about the functions, operation and current events related to the United States government than natural-born citizens. That’s primarily attributed to the extremely rigorous education program and demonstrated knowledge necessary to meet the stringent requirements of the naturalization process.

While many of those natural-born assume they have or will acquire such knowledge through the process of osmosis or the ignorant musings of a “smart” friend or neighbor, our naturalized fellow-citizens have been vetted, tested, and have proven themselves worthy of their rights and privileges of citizenship.

As one who has taught civics in formal classes, run for the U.S. Congress and studied diplomacy, I am repeatedly befuddled by the knowledge — or lack thereof — about principles of the American government or governance by other Americans who proclaim their right to “freedom(s)” under those same principles. I find it equally hard to believe that those who protest the loudest about the erosion of the right of independent thought and personal autonomy are also the actors who would/do most often trample the rights and freedom of expression of those with whom they disagree.

The example of this contradiction is most dramatically demonstrated by those who rail against being forced to vaccinate against their will. They will crow incessantly about their right and freedom to do what they want with their own bodies, yet too many of them will argue against a woman’s right to choose an abortion or act in a manner consistent with her conscience and the counsel of her physician.

Because they are disturbed or offended by the truth of their histories, they will attempt to prevent the telling of the unvarnished truth of that hateful and most often brutal excursion through the American past. Historical revisionism now runs rampant. Those who cling to the deceitful nature of the typical Trump follower would have all believe that the history of this nation began in 1776 and that the viciousness of slavery, the inhumane treatment of the Native American, the brutish overrun of the Mexican occupants of the American Southwest, and the unjust exclusion of Asian immigrants was accomplished with the willing participation of its victims.

Most egregiously, they’re the ones who proclaim to value American democracy, the principle of “one person, one vote” and the unabridged right of every citizen’s personal expression through the ballot — except when the votes of people of color, women or others on the “outside” upset the balance of white political power. The unwillingness to accept the “browning” of America has created a social divide so broad and acerbic as to only offer a future steeped in violence and discord.

Without the hint of voter irregularities, the radical right has convinced a huge segment of the population that election outcomes that don’t favor the white majority are rigged or “fake.” White supremacy has become the fellow traveler with Republicanism and/or political conservatism. The Jan. 6 insurrection and its precursor in Charlottesville, Va., are now acceptable methods of redressing grievance. Those violations of our most cherished traditions of social conduct are not considered worthy of criticism because they express some nebulous truth.

Pedagogists (students of the art and science of teaching) have long believed that authoritarianism flourishes in the absence of critical thinking among uneducated/undereducated populations. These are populations most willing to accept “facts” that most closely align with their own beliefs. The reemerging racism and misogyny are the drivers of this new and objectionable “spirit of America.” The fear of losing power has caused a negative attitude adjustment among uninformed and just plain mean whites who, each day, demonstrate their unwillingness to accept and adapt to our changing America.

Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.

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