Fear & Understanding

As the father of two multi-racial boys, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the events of Charlottesville, and of nationalism and racism in general. I wrote Hunter of Legends after the birth of my son, who is half-black, half-white.

As those who've read the book know, Hunter of Legends delves into nationalism, and some of the ideas that drive it. I wrote the book partially to better understand where people who believe in nationalism - including white nationalism (as opposed to supremacism) - are coming from. There's a tendency to reject ideas we find unacceptable, to refuse to think about them or consider the perspective of those who hold those ideas. I believe it is important to do the opposite; the more unacceptable an idea, the more important it is that I understand it. That I understand how it came to be, and why people feel the way they do.

I've spoken to quite a few people from different cultures about nationalism and culture, including the concept of cultural dilution and cultural "genocide." It's interesting to note that these concepts are not just ideas held by white nationalists. I've spoken with people from Kenya who bemoan the gradual loss of their culture due to the influence of more westernized cultures and the rise of urbanization. I've spoken with Native Americans who believe that their culture - already devastated by the very real genocide perpetrated against them - is still under siege today, and that the lack of young men and women to continue their legacy may lead to the death of their ways. I've spoken with Asian Americans who, having immigrated to this country in the 70's, regret the fact that their children and grandchildren have less and less interest in their native traditions.

In all of these instances, the idea that one's way of life - their traditions, beliefs, and rituals...the things they hold near and dear in their hearts - may die away is shared. There is an underlying fear there, and mourning for something lost. These are real issues, and not just for "white" people.

Hatred, racism, supremacism, bigotry, and violence should be condemned, and nationalism can lead to these, as occurs in my book. People use differences in culture to justify hatred and disgust for one another, and as Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French philosopher noted, the greater the difference between cultures, the easier it is to hold disgust for them...to think of them as less than human. We do the same for cultures poorly represented in our media...including those of the middle east, who are seldom displayed as anything but villains in our movies and television shows. The same goes for African Americans, who are disproportionately displayed as criminals in our media. My wife bemoans the fact that, as a Black actress, she struggles to find roles outside of the gangster/drug dealer category.

I think it is important for us to have a discussion about the underlying drivers of these feelings and beliefs. If we do not understand each other - if we refuse to understand each other - then we will continue to hate each other. It is easier to have compassion for someone when you listen to them and understand where they're coming from. We don't have to agree with each other, and we live in a country where we are privileged to have the right to our beliefs, no matter how unacceptable they may be to someone else.

We'll never change peoples' minds by keeping our minds closed, or by vilifying people. I want to write books that make me think, and that take me out of my comfort zone. I hope that, in reading them, they do the same for you.