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Sean Rima: On Race, Justice, and the Meaning of Words.


One of the coolest things I ever did for myself as a young person and a voracious reader of books was to nurture a love and curiosity about Etymology.

Etymology, as defined, is the study of the origins and the meanings of words.

Knowing the etymology of words is especially cool when one works mostly in the English language, which tends to be largely based in Latin. So, if you know a smidge of Latin, you can pretty much figure out the meanings of a whole lot of words in English, even if you’ve never seen that word before in your life, and despite the fact that many words in English, depending on context, have countless different meanings. Still, the root of the word is almost always the same, no matter the usage or context.

Justice is, well, just such a word.

Take the word ‘just’ out of ‘justice,’ and what does it mean?

It means, literally, enough.

I want just enough Big Red to satisfy my thirst. I’ve had just about enough of you. I just want one more slice of pizza.

In regards to our Justice System, it literally translates into just enough punishment, meted-out by a civilized society, to match the crime. In this sense, justice is defined by a notion of balance, which is why we symbolize the idea of it with a blindfolded woman holding a scale. Her emotions do not enter into it, nor do her personal opinions. Objectively, what is just enough punishment for this crime? When it’s just enough…the scales are brought into balance.

To put it plainly, if I rip the tag off my mattress, which is, technically, a crime, it would be much more than enough if I were sentenced to ten years in a federal prison. Conversely, if I were to walk into a Walmart and shoot dozens of people in a horrific act of violence–and get 90 days in County jail–it would not be nearly enough for what I deserve for that particular crime.

Obviously, the word Justice is a very powerful word these days, as it should be, at all times.

I do not believe it was just that George Floyd died on a street in Minneapolis with another man’s knee on his neck, blocking his airway. In fact, it is my opinion that this was a soulless act of murder.

Conversely, I do not believe it is just that hundreds of people, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, have had their property stolen and destroyed, their businesses burned, and, as it were, beaten-up and unjustly murdered themselves.

One act of hate and brutality does not, in any way, shape, or form, justify additional acts of hate and brutality.

As for those people who are genuinely (and peacefully) protesting a level of injustice within our system–well, yeah, very obviously, I support them. It’s called Free Speech and the Right To Assemble. Whether I fully agree with the speech of it or not.

Now, concerning racism, I have very little to say about it.

It is a poison and a pox on the Human Condition, to be sure, and one of the primary sources of abject misery amongst people currently living on Planet Earth, as well as down through the blood-stained pages of our history. People judging people on something as purely random and biological as the their skin pigment represents the apex of our collective cruelty, our vanity, and our stupidity.

I don’t have much to say about it because that’s not how I live, nor has it ever been how I’ve lived. It is not how my father raised me, it is not how I treat people, and it is not how I and my wife have raised our children. In this regard, I feel no need or social urge to justify my non-racism to anyone. I will let the life I’ve lived stand for that.

Essentially, I believe in people being nice to one another. If we could just pull that off, we’d all be a Hell of a lot better off. That’s what my dad taught me, and he was, by anyone’s recollection who knew him, a very nice guy. Whether he was talking to the dude working the cash register at the local 711 or the CEO of a major corporation. He was nice to everyone. He treated everyone the same.

Now, very obviously, in my professional and artistic lives, I am not always that. I can’t be.

This is because my radio work and my writing demand that I be starkly honest in my opinions, or, frankly, it would be impossible to function in either world.

But in my personal life, I am quite proud of the fact that I have lived a life of niceness. Even when, on occasion, some folks have taken advantage of that.

Still, I’d rather be remembered as the nice guy in the room than the jerk.

So, you know, not quite sure what I’m trying to say in these dark, weird, violent times…other than, I guess, maybe just try being nice. And forgiving. And merciful. And all the rest of that pesky, old school Golden Rule stuff.

Might just save the day, in this moment. For all of us.

Just saying,

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