Genocide has a familiar taste to the palate of many Americans. Often regarded as the "Dark side" or "Shadow" of one's personality, this evil appears in many guises. Whether we like it or not, everyone seems to own one of these evil "shadows," and some people call it meeting their devils. This so-called dark side of human nature can be defined as the intention to do harm to another individual. But the shadow is not only an individual problem. Groups, communities, cities, and countries can manifest a collective shadow that may lead to dangerous actions such as scapegoating, discrimination, racist attacks, and even the potential destruction and elimination of our own species, as in war.
We can try to run from the fact that America was built on the genocide or destruction of the Native American peoples and cultures. For example, we can pretend we don't know that less than 200 years ago California was paying a bounty for Native American scalps. But at the same time we seem to be running out of answers to our present-day problems in America and the world. We certainly have imagined a better life, and many have followed allegedly "enlightened" gurus, priests, and politicians who tell us exactly what we want to hear, although they don't seem to be able to walk their own talk. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by accepting and making the darkness an integral part of oneself. We all have a dark side, but many don't want to see it.
America has become a stage for this collective shadow. The 2010 August report from the National Coalition for the Homeless stated: "Violent, often fatal, attacks on homeless Americans now outnumber all other categories of hate crimes combined." In Redding, Calif., three boys beat a homeless man to death with metal pipes and baseball bats, thereby reminding us that hate, prejudice, and racism are taught at home by parents who pass these attitudes on to their children. The most common victim of hate crimes against the homeless is alleged to be a middle-aged man between 40 and 60 years of age.
If this is too difficult to imagine, let's bring it closer to home and look inside our own micro community. There are reported hate crimes against the homeless happening right here in our very own Nevada City.
As you may know, I have been an advocate for the local homeless population for over five years. Through these years I have received many reports from the homeless concerning the seizure and disposal of their personal property, along with news of harassment and physical violence perpetrated against them by local authorities. While these crimes are being investigated, we now also have the death of local citizen William "Billy" Kelly, which is under investigation. There is a lot to be concerned about.
Nevada City is mostly a community of white, Christian, middle-class folk. And yet, was Jesus not a homeless person? If you are still not satisfied that there is a widespread dislike for homeless people, just go into our local newspaper web site, "The Union," and click on "homeless" or on my last name "Streicher," and read all the insulting, negative comments (if still available). You may be appalled by the apathy concerning the meek and poor who the Bible states will someday inherit the Earth. You could have also attended the Nevada City Council meetings on homeless issues and gotten a good taste of what the dark side can look like in public, at the same time that the free meal program for the homeless was shut down (re-runs available on TV). If you are really brave, put on your backpack and spend a few nights trying to survive under the local bridges. I once tried sleeping in my car in a church parking lot to get a feel for being homeless, but I was rudely awakened at 1 a.m. by a policeman holding a glaring flashlight in my eyes. No at all friendly, he told me to "get up and out." I have no criminal record (which could be verified by my license plate), and I was not causing a disturbance.
To some fanatical Muslims, America is the great Satan. To radical Nazi adherents, the Jews are thought of as better dead than alive. To certain devout Christian monks, shamans are considered in league with the devil. To American members of the Ku Klux Klan, Blacks are depicted as subhuman. And, now it seems that some residents of Nevada City are characterizing the homeless in a similarly despicable manner.
Consider this: Years ago I recall visiting a famous zoo in the heartland of America in which one of the cages featured a large mirror for people to look at themselves. Underneath the mirror was a warning that read: "The Most Dangerous Animal on Earth." The wild savage in us is very much alive - just caged most of the time. A goal of meeting the shadow is to develop an ongoing relationship with it. We may think that the shadow contains only darkness and evil, but, as Carl Jung has stated, its essence is "pure gold," because it allows us finally to acknowledge those dark parts of ourselves and bring them into consciousness. Maybe this is what the "Gold Country" is all about. I have always enjoyed this quote by Lee Salk, "When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars." When I glance at the dark evening sky over Nevada City, I see a lot of stars.
Thomas J. Streicher, Ph.D., runs the nonprofit Divine Spark.