Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things that make you go Hmmmmm……

Occasionally I see an aging,dirty white pickup truck with a camper on the back covered with bumper stickers here at the local Starbucks. Some of the stickers suggest the owner is a Vietnam veteran, a beer lover, A Gator fan and a motorcycle rider. The other stickers suggest this is someone I might not want to spend much time with. To wit:

• “Welcome to America. NOW SPEAK ENGLISH.” – Right. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the moment a person crosses a national boundary they should instantly be proficient in that country’s language. Certainly has been my experience – NOT!

I have struggled for three decades to master Spanish and still have only a limited proficiency. My recent trip to Cuba has reminded me of my limitations in language and as a human being. I understand the desire for Immigrants to assimilate – which generally occurs within one generation of immigration – and the need to speak a common language. But I also recognize that America is one of the few first world nations in the world whose ethnocentrism has prevented its school children from learning other languages (and thus other cultures) leading to a deepening of the natural xenophobia most human beings experience upon encountering those from other cultures.

There is no small irony in the Know-Nothing movement of the mid 19th CE in its self-naming. While they called themselves Know-Nothings because that was the politically correct party line when asked about their anti-immigrant activities – I don’t know nothin’ – the reality is that their suspiciousness and irrational fear of the newly arrived Americans preventing them from knowing much about the other, thereby resulting in an impoverished experience for both parties.

Which is why the bumper sticker next to it is so ironic (no doubt, unconsciously)….

• “Póg Mo Thóin – Kiss My Irish” - Well, not exactly. It’s Gaelic for kissing one’s posterior portion. If one is Irish (as I am to a large degree), then I suppose one’s posterior would be just as Irish as any other part of one’s Erse anatomy.

But the irony is that this non-English exhortation appears immediately next to the one demanding that people speak English only now that they are in the United States. Does that include Vietnam vets with chips on their shoulders? Does it include modern day Know-Nothings?

More importantly, does this really reflect a pure nationalism that Know-Nothings would have demanded? The next bumper sticker made me wonder.

Confederate Battle Flag – I grew up in a Jim Crow border state nearing the end of its stranglehold on fractured social relations. As a child I was taught the Confederate Battle Flag was the symbol of a fallen South we should respect. Our high school mascot was the Rebels and our school song was Dixie. It all seemed pretty normal until integration when all those presumptions came into question and serious cognitive dissonance set in.

As a history major at the University of Florida, I came to realize that the Confederate Battle Flag stood for a lot more than Southern heritage, the simplistic (and largely disingenuous) argument made by many in the Deep South today. It stood for slavery, it stood for a state’s rights approach to law that often serves only to protect regressive legislation and the vested interests it reflects.

But most of all, it stood for the ultimate opposition to the United States – opposition that came from within its own ranks. Hence the irony of such a symbol pasted right next to a sticker reflecting a xenophobic nationalism. One wonders how the displayer of such sentiments is able to so clearly compartmentalize their thinking.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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