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The following is Jack’s Musing:
Mind the Gap
When in England a short while back, my wife and I learned how to navigate London via the “Tube.” It was great fun and I enjoyed the experience. There are trains going everywhere underground and above ground also. However, I was stunned on every train ride I took to hear British politeness come to the fore. For example, as the train arrives at the platform, a voice rings out, "Please mind the gap." The gap of course is the space between the platform and the floor of the coach you are entering or exiting.
Sometimes there was no worry about falling into the gap. The gap was small and there was no issue. On some trains though, the gap between the coach and the platform could swallow a leg, arm or suitcase. This was especially so on the Piccadilly line which we took often. However, never let it be said that British sensibilities do not reign. I began habitually minding the gap or as we say in America, “looking before I leap.” It got so that every time a voice said "mind the gap", I could hear British/American comedian, John Oliver making a fist and yelling, “Mind the gap, Jack! Mind the gap!”
Day to day, we all live in ignorance. We are unaware of some things, not because we knew them once but have forgotten them, but because we never took care (or were able to) learn them at all. We don’t pay attention to the gaps in our lives. Often we find ourselves dropping into gaps that could be perilous. Trapped in emotion, confusion, stubbornness, and projection, we find that we have difficulty functioning at our best or indeed at all. Maybe you find that you should have studied more when in school, or realized that understanding English and the difference between verbs and nouns is important in writing sentences. Faced with a lack in your education, you may have found a need to return to school, to study grammar, to fill that gap.
At times we think we know something until faced with someone who actually does. To fill that gap would require you or me to check our information, correct it if need be, and free ourselves from living with that gap. I know something about astrophysics, but not enough to talk about what I know. It is a gap from time to time I try to fill by reading about the subject. I’m trying to mind the gap. It really is okay to acknowledge that there are gaps in our lives. When conscious of the gaps in understanding, knowing, working, and playing, you and I have a choice. We can fill in the gaps using resources at our disposal, or allow the gaps to remain. If we choose the latter, it is important to mind them. That in and of itself is knowledge of a kind.
Although a history major in college back in the 1960s, my education left me woefully unaware of the early beginnings of racism in the United States. I was exposed to, Jim Crow laws and rules that relegated blacks to second-class citizenship. I was aware that the indigenous population in our country was subjugated, and that the truth about the cowboy and Indian movies I grew up watching is that, the stories were fabricated, favoring the way white Americans viewed other races. Only recently have I thought about the distortive way we tell our history.
I attended grammar and high school with Hispanic and African Americans and had many friends of both races. I really liked and admired many of them. However, when I arrived in high school, I saw them self-select along racial and ethnic lines. Throughout high school I maintained relationships with these friends and saw most of them segregated from white college-bound students. Following high school graduation, to my shame, I lost track of virtually every one of them. I was not conscious of the gap between their non-white world and my white world. Only recently have I identified the gap. Bryan Sirchio, a UCC minister, talked about the, “Doctrine of Discovery”, at a conference I attended recently. I have since the conference been researching that, doctrine. (See Steve Newcomb, Five Hundred Years of Injustice). It all goes back to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) in 1493. Alexander VI issued a papal bull allowing Christian people in foreign lands to subjugate non-Christian populations and conquer the land in the name of the European Christian country. Non-Christians were thought to be less than human, and therefore could be enslaved or killed.
In 1823, the United States, in a Supreme Court decision (Johnson v McIntosh), allowed the continuance of the same practices that European (Christians) used in conquering non-Christian peoples. Due to the fact that the American colonies had been established by Christian nations, America could continue adhering to the, Doctrine of Discovery.” The 1823 Supreme Court Decision has not been struck down as far as I am aware. We all know the legacy with which we continue to struggle.
It is no wonder there continues to be racial tension, and continuing distrust among differing races in America. White Americans in the North and the South, practiced a historic learned behavior (prejudice), brought to these shores by “colonizers” over five hundred years ago. We have not yet unlearned the prejudice with which we have grown up.
I struggle deeply in my heart with the continuing distortions of white entitlement and racial divisions everywhere. That gap could be changed as is being done today in Canada through the, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” which calls on “Church and State”, to publicly, acknowledge complicity in the racism that created the mistreatment and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples.
In the United States, a 2013 documentary called, “Some Girls” examines the way Latina girls see themselves, and follows them as they become aware—and accepting--of their mixed heritages. It presents the positive change that children in America experience when, in learning about their history, they can see themselves as different and beautiful as they are. The documentary examines the history of racism in the Americas, and the subjugation of the populations from which these girls evolved. The whitewashed history, many others and I learned in school didn’t tell the whole story. “Some Girls” is a moving documentary that is beautifully done and humbling to watch.
Today, I’m aware of the troubling gap left in my education, a gap that allowed me to live a long life which left me ignorant of the cultural gap between me and those considered other (non-whites). My premise for closing the gap is, to acknowledge my historic inability to open my eyes (ignorance) and see my neighbor as myself. That five centuries ago, European Christians created the, “Doctrine of Discovery”, and brought us to the place we are now in America is distressing. I am repenting (turning around) of that viewpoint, and am determined to work for justice in regard to my non-white neighbors.
I don’t know about you, but I know about myself, I want to mind the gap. Who knows, maybe I can avoid stumbling if I can maintain and increase my consciousness. What I find myself struggling with, though, is the recurrent voice of scolds telling me to mind the status quo. Telling me to mind my own business and get over the past even though the much of the past lives on in the present. That behavior, makes me angry and resentful. I stop listening to such voices. I know that those voices are often biased by their own life experience. But, I simply cannot hear those voices because of how patronizing their self-righteousness sounds in my ear.
Back to London: The British are great at putting phrases just right. In a pleasant manner they simply and politely remind you to pay attention to the gaps around us. Carry on. Jack