"Hey, John, I think you're a big nigger lover, worse than this bin Laden guy. I hope there's a bullet in your head."
That's what you call feedback (and police call a felonious death threat). We can safely deduce that the caller was white and considers himself patriotic, despite indulging in that most un-American of pastimes -- trying to silence others.
Sure, he's a bigot. His worst nightmare probably is that if blacks had been given a fair shake in our society, most of them would be running far ahead of his sorry ass in the game of life. But despite cowering behind anonymity, the caller at least spoke his mind (as teensy and morally diseased as it may be).
And that's damn good.
When I wrote a month ago about reparations for racism, I promised a dialogue. That column appeared during the week of the sneak attack on America. My next missive warned that we hadn't been paying attention to what the rest of the world feels about our country, and why. I suggested that peace is made by peacemakers, not by warmakers.
Americans' emotions have been battered in recent weeks. Some people have shut down, focusing on the mundane rituals -- malls, movies and McDonald's -- of pre-911 life. Other citizens have had their feelings roasted to white hot. Fear is certainly evident. So is faith. Still others have been reflective.
All of those reactions are evident in 309 e-mails, letters and phones calls, as of Sept. 29, that are return volleys from readers regarding the reparations and terrorist attack columns. About a quarter of the reader rejoinders deal with both issues. It's a pretty sizable output, close to an avalanche for just two articles. I'd like think it's because of my erudition and eloquence, but I suspect the raw nerves touched on by the issues -- and the incendiary times -- prompted people to speak out.
And that's damn good.
The messages are overwhelming supportive of what I've written. I didn't sway many to swap sides on the issues. Rather, it appears I put into words what many people feel, but don't see voiced in the mainstream media. Especially with terrorism, readers opined that although they, too, favor a restrained and law-based approached to punishing the killers, they feel intimidated by the jingoistic war drumbeating in Washington, on the tube and in many publications.
My column on terrorism "is the first reasonable and honest reporting I have read," wrote Betty Weld, who saw the column in Florida. "You said all the things I have been thinking. ... Unfortunately, if a significant number of people begin to agree with you, the (newspaper) and you personally will very likely be targeted by government agencies and local crazies."
Nelson Binggeli of Ormewood Park commented: "The best commentary on the tragedy I have read this week." And, Christine Mallia wrote that "it was nice to read a voice of reason from the media for a change."
What may be surprising to people such as Weld, Binggeli and Mallia is that they shouldn't feel isolated. It was politically popular -- at least politicians thought so -- to back the Vietnam War and, here in the South, to oppose integration. But public opinion left the politicians in the graveyard of decaying ideas. All that was needed was a spark -- a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. or the Kent State massacre -- and the true majority shouted down conventional wisdom.
We may not even have to wait so long this time for reason and truth to emerge. While some polls are showing broad support for military action, one, conducted by Gallup and released Sept. 21, showed that 46 percent of Americans were opposed to or undecided about taking military action. In 29 of 30 countries polled, the sentiment was against war, often with margins of 80-90 percent.
And that's damn good.
Among readers commenting on my columns, the ratio favoring me is 5-1 on dealing with America's response to the terrorist attack. On reparations, it's closer, about 2-1. The majority on reparations includes many white as well as black citizens -- an encouraging sign. The minority was all white, as close as I could tell -- other than one anonymous person who identified herself as a Native American and voiced the opinion that her people, "victims of the worst ethnic and cultural genocide in history," should be first in line to talk about justice.
On the generally supportive tone of the comments, I can hear a skeptical harrumph out there in readerland. But I'd tell you if 100 percent of the writers had trashed me. Being in a small minority -- even a minority of one -- can give you amazing leverage to affect the future. Socrates comes to mind. Voltaire. Ayn Rand. Bertrand Russell. Eugene V. Debs. Phil Ochs and John Lennon. Clarence Darrow and Ramsey Clark. Any of America's founding fathers, whose revolutionary fervor hardly moved more than a third of their countrymen. MLK and Gandhi. George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy and Ralph Nader. Heck, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.
I don't pretend to bat in those thinkers' leagues. They just have special places on my bookshelf. But, as with those heavy hitters' detractors, one of the most common themes from those who took a swing at me was that I was far afield from what they considered the majority.
"It's been a while since I've read such Leftist propaganda that ridiculous," offered Max Rocketanski of Atlanta. Or, wrote Jennifer Dowling of Atlanta: "I came away from your article regarding the terrorist attacks ... with one sentiment, Please leave the country." And, Charles Jackson of Atlanta, clearly assuming he represented America while I was merely a remnant from "a cell of leftist students in the '60s," wrote: "You must have a real problem perhaps, a very small penis inside a pair of ladies panties. Mr. Sugg, you are beneath my contempt. Bite me, you piece of pond scum." Jackson didn't offer any arguments, and probably has none that aren't motivated by his apparent fears of male inadequacy. Other writers, such as Rocketanski, were insightful and reasoned.
And, whatever their opinions, the fact that they think something is damn good.
On reparations, most who took issue with me missed the entire point of what I was writing. I argued that racism had demonstrably injured an identifiable group, African Americans. It still does. It's not a guilt thing. It's measurable in dollars. It's not a personal issue of "me" paying or "you" paying, or "him" and "her" receiving. The fact that there's an underclass, determined by nothing else than race, means that those in the majority have enjoyed an unjust benefit in life. Our nation has always struggled to confront our wrongs, and right them. It's time that, as a nation, we deal with one of our gravest blemishes, racism.
Nonetheless, Benson Miller left this message: "I had nothing to do with slavery. I don't think I'm a racist. Please explain why I should pay." And Thomas Fischer of Duluth compared this to telling his son that regrets don't remedy a wrong -- "No amount of money will make it right."
Many callers and writers were touched by the fact that someone -- anyone -- in the media gave the idea of reparations a fair shake. "It was truly wonderful to see someone representing the 'majority culture' thought process delve deeper to explore race," wrote Marlene Finch. Emory senior Vonetta Daniels was so moved that she (jokingly) proposed marriage, and noted that "we continue to ignore the truth about this nation's history" with race.
I had other suggestions that make this job worthwhile. Michael Vickers of Decatur said: "Kudos, kudos, kudos. Man, you need to run for president."
That probably wouldn't be damn good.
Senior Editor John Sugg -- who says of his treatment of his critics, "Sometimes you have to be cruel, just for the sheer joy of cruelty" -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at email@example.com.
Oy, multi-millions for public amenities, civic pride and bragging rights; but, not a penny for…
Not to be the one hijacking a thread here, but imagine the freak out if…
Vox, you disappoint me. You attack an article about a legitimate problem by saying it…
"Some call it poverty - others call it a simpler life." ________________________________________ Interesting point my…
Why are Georgia and most other southern states so often at the bottom on quality-of-life…