Pick a fear, any fear. Just like a card trick, the one your mind selects is chosen by a master magician whose expert sleight of hand keeps you from seeing through the illusion.
Are you afraid of dark-skinned people whose native language is something other than English? Then by all means, pick the immigration card. If you don’t look closely, you may be hypnotized just enough to view an entire group of people through a wide-angle lens. This distorted perspective allows you to categorize and demonize immigrants as lawless, disrespectful and unworthy of human respect and dignity — whether legal or not.
What about homophobia? As we’ve seen recently, this card has been played by some of the loudest and most ardent objectors to gays and lesbians — including George Rekers, a married Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a passion for “curing” homosexuality who was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport.
Rekers’ own demise illustrates that what people like him fear most in themselves is projected outward, in the vilification of others. Although not necessarily a sophisticated demonstration of sleight of hand, for a time, the illusion of righteousness is maintained through vehement protestation and distracts attention from the sinister nature of our own fear.
And then there is the superiority card.
Recently in Nashville, there have been more subtle signs of fear disguised as pride as it relates to the recent floods. In spite of national media attention, some wondered why the flood went “untouched” by the news media and President Obama, invoking an ill-advised comparison with New Orleans by suggesting the relative lack of flood-related crime here meant we weren’t worthy of the airtime.
Although the damage is widespread, devastating and life-altering for many, the death toll in Tennessee amounted to about 20, while Katrina-related deaths in New Orleans were reported at 1,833. Where the estimated damage in Nashville currently is in the neighborhood of $2 billion, Katrina was more than $100 billion. And as many neighborhoods as have been affected in Nashville, there is no equivalent population to those in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, where 10,000 people were displaced (many of them forced to leave the state).
Days after Nashville’s flood, a video was circulating widely on the Internet called “Expressions by Misti,” which as of Thursday had been viewed by nearly 1.4 million people. It is a photo essay chronicling Nashville’s devastation and moments of bravery, grief and joy — set to the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun.”
What was jarring about the video was the not-so-subtle comparisons embedded in between the images. Rather than simply lifting up Nashvillians, the text cards in between boasted how Nashvillians were special because we pulled together, “didn’t loot” or feign helplessness.
Again, the allusion — and the illusion — suggests that we are not like those folks in New Orleans. Also noteworthy was, in spite of the massive numbers of minority and immigrant neighborhoods affected by the floods, there were few images — if any — reflecting these neighborhoods.
It is admirable that Nashville communities rallied together in artfully organized ways, but as far as boasting that no looting occurred, it is simply incorrect. Numerous flood victims from north Nashville, south Nashville, East Nashville and central experienced looting — even though it did not make headlines.
There is nothing wrong with feeling good about the solidarity of a community befallen by tragedy. But let’s be honest: Both cities endured major devastation, and the people demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion.
Upon careful examination of the fears that are often at the root of our veiled attacks, the truth is this: We Are Nashville just as much as We Are New Orleans.