Fear on Toast

Have you met Tiny Doo and Tiny Don't? If you have read "The Ballad of Zero Gulch" then you know them well. They are the twin faces of democracy, the alpha and omega of freedom and suppression, the way we are and the way we pretend to be.

Tiny represents those who are guilty of breathing while black.(W. Kamau Bell calls it "Being a Big Black Male"). His nephew, Eduardo, is guilty of trying to buy diapers for his infant son, and being told to leave the store because "your kind" is committing burglaries in this area. Tiny's niece is guilty of gender toxicosis: after a lifetime in the arts she is still being smothered by a blanket of indifference. Tiny's uncle almost lost his house because a minor bureaucrat in a major bank found his accent too noticeable. And then there is the New York Times writer who learned that his son at Yale University was forced to lie on the ground facing a pistol because the officer thought he was dressed like a burglery suspect. (Here is the direct report by Charles Blow, the father/New York Times op-ed columnist.)

Where does it stop? And what can we do to stop it? We are being crushed under regulations, many of which absolve the people enforcing them under the easy excuse of "I was told to". Maybe it really means that they are afraid to speak out, rock the boat, or protest, because they might lose their jobs. But too often the regulations hide bigotries. They are used as chains of control, as a means of stifling individuality or simply silencing differences. Those in control get swollen with self-importance.

Personally I love democracy. I love spreading it on my toast in the morning, relishing it during my daily walk, finding joy in the story of Patrick Henry. A recent article in The Economist* spoke of Thomas Jefferson in this way: "His classically trained intellect led him to the view that diversity of belief should be welcomed, not condemned or punished."

I suspect that it was not only freedom of religion that inspired him, but freedom to be.

Unfortunately, condemnation and punishment have become the tools of choice of today's institutions. The Economist goes on to say of Jefferson: "He had a deep, visceral loathing for government-backed religion, but he also believed in the free exercise of faith, with the emphasis on free."

I have a deep visceral loathing for prejudices, for government that suppresses rather than serves. And I am proud of my efforts, through images and words, to stand up for the disenfranchised. Smug I was: these are things that happen to others. Not to me. Not to worry.

Then, out of the red-white-and-blue, it happened to me, and I suddenly understood what it feels like to live in fear. And if it happened to me, it can happen to you, or to one of your loved ones. You become acutely aware: this is America. This isn't supposed to happen here.

But it does, my friends, it does. If we don't stop it, it will bring democracy to a screeching halt. I think of this when I see pictures of soldiers in the Third Reich, goose-stepping. Someone, several someones, are goose-stepping on our liberties. We have become the pebbles under their heels.

Unless we act. Unless we protest. Otherwise we will all be spreading fear on our toast.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2015

* "The Father of Freedom", from the Economist.

Here are a couple of updates on Tiny Doo and his current status.