Bryan Steven­son

Newsweek - - Politics - steven­son is the founder of the non­profit Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive. In April, EJI opened Mont­gomery, Alabama’s Na­tional Memo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice, which re­mem­bers the thou­sands of black men, women and chil­dren lynched in the United States.

Ideal with peo­ple all the time who have been ac­cul­tur­ated to hate, and when some­thing com­pli­cates that, they don’t know what to do. If you ex­tend a hand, many of them will grab it be­cause hat­ing is ex­haust­ing. It’s mis­er­able and de­mor­al­iz­ing, and it makes you de­pressed. Some peo­ple are just not ready to en­gage, but I never rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing those peo­ple hope­fully see some­thing they haven’t seen be­fore.

Par­ents learn that when they’re re­ally an­gry with their kids, that’s not the time to re­act or dis­ci­pline them. And the same is true of fear. It will cause you to do all kinds of ir­ra­tional things. So if we want to be ra­tio­nal, if we want to be thought­ful and strate­gic and com­pas­sion­ate, we’re go­ing to have to push back against the pol­i­tics of fear and anger. Once you have a con­scious­ness about it, you hear it. So when you lis­ten to a po­lit­i­cal speech, and what the can­di­date is say­ing is “Be afraid and be an­gry,” then you want to ask your­self, Why is that the pre­scrip­tion I’m be­ing given?

Part of un­der­stand­ing his­tory is that you’ll see that it was fear that gen­er­ated the most shame­ful and de­struc­tive abuses of our past, like the geno­cide of Na­tive Amer­i­cans, slav­ery, lynch­ing and seg­re­ga­tion. The place­ment of Ja­panese-amer­i­cans in con­cen­tra­tion camps was based on an ir­ra­tional fear and anger. But what we did was un­just, un-amer­i­can and un­con­sti­tu­tional. And it was racist: We didn’t have the same re­sponse to Ger­man-amer­i­cans or Ital­ianamer­i­cans. Un­der­stand­ing that can tem­per what we should think on is­sues like im­mi­gra­tion or ed­u­ca­tion.

So when you hear some­one say, “Those peo­ple, they’re noth­ing but an­i­mals. Those peo­ple are rapists,” you be­gin to think, Wait a minute! We don’t talk like that. That’s not a path­way to re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment. When you do that, politi­cians can’t talk that way with an ex­pec­ta­tion of re­ward. We’re at a mo­ment where there is a rise of the pol­i­tics of fear as a path­way to power. It’s also a path­way to op­pres­sion and in­jus­tice and in­equal­ity. And those are the things that have to com­pel us to re­sist them. (Ex­cerpted from an in­ter­view with Mary Kaye Schilling.)

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