In the 1989 film ‘Romero’ starring the late Raul Julia as the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero; there are many powerful scenes. But the one that comes back to me time and again as I note what is happening in the US these days is at the core of that movie and at the core of Romero’s real life wisdom as well.
Thrown into prison for protesting the abuses of the regime, the archbishop finds the cells crammed with other prisoners suffering constant abuse, neglect, starvation, and torture. He can hear other prisoners screaming as they are beaten and abused within those walls. Finally, Romero walks to the bars of his cell and begins to shout one simple phrase again and again:
“We are human beings! We are human beings! We are human beings!”
Four simple words and they tell the whole brutal story of humankind’s inhumanity to itself. Because not only the story of Oscar Romero and the archives of the Holocaust, or the history of European pogroms, or the records of the Holy Inquisition and its counterparts, or the history of any and all wars, chattel slavery, prostitution, and genocide; but most of human history shows us that only one change of perspective is required to allow such horrors to begin, to thrive and to grow: We have to make those we enslave, kidnap, defraud, rape, molest, rob, abuse, torture and kill not human beings. And we have done, and we still do.
Simple, right? If someone you fear and therefore believe that you hate is no longer human to you, it becomes easier by a magnitude to steal all they have, lie about them, perjure yourself in their regard, imprison them, commit them, obstruct them, deny them human rights, starve, bomb, burn, poison, torture and murder them and all their kin.
So, if that’s easy the reverse must be easy, too, right? Wish that were so. But it can be tried, right? I read there’s more danger of conflict, even of fires in this new Year of the Horse. Well, lets contend with this old, old, literally fearful perspective on other human beings, lets conflict with those who say they can’t see things the other way. And then lets metaphorically only burn down the barriers that very perspective builds.
I am a human being and so are you. We are human beings, all of us two legged, inventive, creative, adaptive, supposedly sapient beings with so much good nature supposedly going for us at this late date. Turn the not-human perspective around and then throw it away. Let’s do that now starting with the Year of the Horse. Let’s do it and keep doing it for a long, long time to come. Start saying it with Archbishop Romero: “We are human beings!”