From: Ed Pearl [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 05, 2012 5:06 AM
To: Ed Pearl
Subject: Rodolfo F. Acuña: "Just because you think something is true does not make it true." Amy Swerdlow, R.I.P.
From: hchsc003 [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 7:54 AM
Subject: "Just because you think something is true does not make it true."
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"The Thin Line"
Rodolfo F. Acuña
"Just because you think something is true does not make it true."
One of the most difficult things about writing are "readers" who believe they can read your mind without reading what you have written. For that I reason I have chosen to revisit a piece that I wrote in 2001 during Antonio Villaraigosa's first mayoral campaign.
The struggle against censorship and the fight to preserve effective education in Tucson has resuscitated my frustration, especially irritating are the distortions of a right-wing blogger for the Arizona Daily Independent who has purposely misquoted the article. She has chosen to malign me and falsely claim that I compared Mandela to Adolf Hitler apparently she did not read the article in question or maybe she can't read.
"The Thin Line
Rodolfo F. Acuña, April 11, 2001
As I get older, I am increasingly aware of the thin line that separates good from bad, the colonized from the colonizer, the soldier from the murderer, the nationalist from the chauvinist, and the true believer and the racist. The thin line separates Ariel from Caliban, Bartolome de las Casas from Hernando Cortes, Lenin from Stalin, and Mandela from Adolf Hitler.
In life we are always walking the thin line, whether attempting to distinguish Democrats from Republicans, businessmen from exploiters, love from hate, or idealism from egotism.
Blurring the thin lines that separate life's driving lanes is not easy. The headlights of oncoming traffic often momentarily blind us, putting us at risk. In political movements, the passions of the times often have the same effect as highway's highlights, confusing the thin lines that separate nationalism from extremism. The glare of the highlights blinds us causing disorientation on the crowded freeway, much the same as they do in struggle.
Take the past mayoral race. In the passion of the fray, some crossed the line, and they abused free speech and became demagogues. A very small but relevant number of self-described Chicano Internet sites, none of them affiliated with the candidates, crossed the thin line and made anti-Semitic statements.
Because one of the candidates was Jewish, "some" Jews became "all" Jews, much in the same way that "some" Mexicans in the past became "all" Mexicans. According to this wrongheaded logic, Jewish money was driving his campaign. This criticism of the mayoral candidate went from the rational to the irrational, as Chicano Internet writers crossed the line from activists to racists.
They crossed the thin line between the rational and the irrational, and between legitimate criticism and stupidity. It is stupid because there was a lot to criticize about the candidate who happened to be Jewish. He was and is a member of Los Angeles' corporate elite that is engineering a corporate takeover of our city schools. Further, his money and his connections are with non-Jewish capitalists like Richard Riordan.
It is these connections and not his ethnicity that mar his candidacy. Finally, it is unfair because many progressive Jews have been his harshest critics.
In spewing the chauvinist rhetoric, one of the self-described nationalists opened up a very divisive and ugly polemic.
In reading the barrage of email letters that cluttered my account, I had a difficult time distinguishing between them and the VCT (Voices of Citizens Together) and its anti-immigrant trash. I also had a difficult time in distinguishing the Email from the Nazi literature of the 1930s.
The irony is that in the past, some of these true believers have heroically struggled for justice for Chicanos and other oppressed people. However, in this instance, their rhetoric wallowed in the sewer and the true believers crossed the thin line when they accused two noted Chicanas of being part of the "Jewish conspiracy." Why? They are married to Jewish males.
In this instance, the thin line that separates the absurd from stupidity was crossed again and again, and one writer in particular fell into the gutter.
The rush of the traffic and the highlights of the opposing traffic also caused a true believer to cross the thin line that separates the macho from the homophobe. In this instance, the true believer accused a national Chicano academic organization of being anti-God because it took a strong stance against homophobia. He then turned around and threatened a respected Latino community organization for sponsoring a forum on issues confronting gay and lesbian Latinos.
The irony is that this same person has condemned Spanish colonialism. So it seems odd that he is raising the moral authority of the colonial Church to validate his prejudices it is hypocritical.
Another irony is that he has in the past courageously crusaded against racism toward undocumented immigrants, the racism of the border patrol, and the racism of police. Yet, in one swoop, he erased the good and the colonized became the colonizer. The victim of racism became the racist.
The tragedy is that his actions hurt the movement and the human rights issues that he espouses. He has sold out his people for the sake of feeding his ego, crossing the line that separates the altruist from the opportunist.
In talking about the thin line, I have intentionally avoided identifying by name those crossing over the thin line. There is a natural inclination to want to know names. However, in my experience, identifying true believers by name often energizes them. They feed off controversy, much the same as the serial rapist feeds off newspaper accounts of his inhumanity. The fact that they get into a debate with someone with some visibility somehow validates them.
Those who know me or know my history know that I am not afraid of controversy. However, I do not want in any way to validate racism or homophobia because they are sicknesses. As a historian I realize the consequences of not distinguishing between "some" and "all."
History also teaches me that being a Chicano or a Latino in the United States is difficult. I believe in the moral authority of our struggle. I also realize that I do not have to make others less to make myself somebody. My ego is not so fragile that I have to drag others down into the muck to be somebody.
I concede that being an activist is difficult. It is always dark and the opposing headlights often make it difficult to see the lines. An activist is always at risk. Yet the failure to see the thin lines has led to unnecessary factionalism within our community.
The bottom line is that no one forces us to be activists. And, just because we are activists, it does not entitle us to be irresponsible and use a movement for our own biases. This is especially true when the undocumented and the poor will suffer the consequences of our irresponsibility."
I tell my students that they must distinguish true knowledge from false knowledge. They are in school to learn a scientific methodology to distinguish fact from opinion. Just because you think something is true does not make it true.
However, I have learned in Arizona that rationality is trumped by money and stupidity. Instead of being probative, those in power and those who support them invent their reality. They mimic the words of those who they want to believe instead of reading or listening to the facts. For example, Arizona Attorney General has attacked my book Occupied America on the basis of it title he hasn't read it.
In "The Thin Line" I attack anti-Semitism because it is racist. However, I would not call a person anti-Semitic lightly. If the writer condemned the Israeli government for its policies on the Palestinian question, I would not call him an anti-Semite just as I would not call a person anti-Mexican for criticizing or even castigating the Mexican government. I am certainly not anti-Mexican for criticizing Mexico for stealing Chiapas from Guatemala. I am certainly not anti-American for criticizing American foreign policy. Learned people distinguish between the lines.
In the case of Arizona, my principle objection is that those in power are not differentiating between opinion and fact. In that way they are much more like a Hitler than a Mandela or a Cortés than a Las Casas. Thus, before you judge books, read beyond the cover, listen and think about the message, and not what you want to believe.
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 11:14 AM
a companion on the road to peace.
It is indeed sad to lose a valued friend. . .
We are saddened to hear that Amy Swerdlow passed away on March 30, 2012. Amy was a member of the Sarah Lawrence history faculty from 1973 -76; 1981-93. As one of the first students to earn a master's degree in SLC's graduate program in Women's History, she then went on to earn a PhD from Rutgers University. In 1983 Amy was named Director of the Women's History Program, a position she held until her retirement in 1993.
Amy Swerdlow will long be remembered for her untiring efforts as teacher and mentor of many young women, and as a long-time peace activist. She was an organizer in the early 1960's of Women Strike for Peace, a grassroots movement that was credited with helping achieve a limited nuclear test ban treaty. Swerdlow was one of 75 American delegates who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1990 for the Soviet-American Women's Summit, a conference to help seek solutions to problems faced by women of all nationalities and political ideologies.
In 1993 Amy Swerdlow was honored by the College with a symposium that included panels on "Women and Peace" and "Women's Political Activism."
We send our heartfelt condolences to Amy's family and friends.
Web Page: www.pictureofpeace.org
"If you think you are too small to be effective, you've never been in bed with a mosquito."