Land of the Free,
Home of the Brave
Thirteen years ago I sat mesmerized before the television watching what I thought was a fictional movie about a group of people in middle America who were so full of hate and prejudice that they felt all non-whites should be terminated. One scene in the movie depicted the execution of a white female and her "half-breed" child. She was viewed as a traitor because she had married a Hispanic. The real eye-opener was at the conclusion of the movie; statistics were given of the numbers of chapters and the members of the various hate groups in the United States. A shiver of terror ran down my spine.
I was pregnant at that time with my third child, whose father, my ex-husband, is Hispanic. Raised in the Deep South, in a racist home, I was well aware of the bias, prejudice, and the outright hatred many whites harbored toward blacks.
The magical sixties and the Civil Rights Movement coincided with my adolescent rebellion, and the ideas that I adapted during my defiant rebellion became a permanent part of my philosophy of life. I was aware of the existence of the Klan, but I felt it was no longer a dangerous organization. After all, aren't we a civilized nation with equal rights? I guess it is always easier to be oblivious to something hideous when it does not affect you personally. I was not prejudice or biased, and I guess I closed my eyes to the discriminatory acts of others.
While married to my daughter's father, I became enlightened considerable. I experienced first-hand what prejudice and hate can accomplish; and the feelings of sheer helplessness and injustice when you see someone you love being discriminated against. I swore to myself at that time that I would never sit idly by while someone was being discriminated against. And although it has gotten me into some "dangerous" situations at times, I never have. I have always spoken up and took action when I witnessed someone being treated unfairly. I also vowed that my children would be raised "colorblind." They would be taught that when someone was different, that was not a reason to fear them, it was an opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding of the world.
Incidents of discrimination occur hundreds of times every hour in this "Great Nation" while people watch and do nothing to correct the situation. I have many friends and loved ones that face discrimination of some type on a daily basis either because they are not Caucasian, they are "foreign," or they have some type of handicap. These incidents may be nothing more than lack of service in a retail store or restaurant, or derogatory remarks made within their hearing. I cannot help but wonder why that even those who are not biased allow this type of behavior to continue. Unless you are a Native American Indian, your ancestors were "foreigners" in this land at one time. But yet we sit by and allow others to be treated in this horrid manner because "they're black" or "they're foreigners and don't belong here."
Unfortunately the United States is not the only country in which discrimination is blatantly allowed to blossom and grow. But, the United States is one of the few nations born from immigration of "foreigners." The United States proudly claims to be a "melting pot of different cultures and races." What makes this nation great is the diversity of the people who have brought their unique cultures and values together to form this country.
Ironically one such incident that enraged me took place within the same state where Lincoln gave his famous "Gettysburg Address." An address which began with the words: "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." This speech was made almost 140 years ago, so what the hell happened! Why is it that a great number of American citizens seem to feel they are superior in some way to those who are different from them?
The only conclusion that I have reached is ignorance and fear. Those who discriminate suffer with xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or people of foreign origin. A phobia is a Greek term for an irrational fear or aversion. Irrational would indicate an "emotional or mental" disturbance or affliction. So are these people sick? Do they need psychological help? Maybe so, and maybe we should start suggesting or demanding that they receive therapy; or better yet, behavior modification training.
The knowledge that this type of discrimination still occurs haunts me hourly. So what can I do about it? I can continue raising my children to believe everyone is equal; that people are people regardless of their race, culture, or religion; and that being a different race, religion, or having different cultural views does not make a person inferior, but makes that person a potential source of information and intellectual growth. I can continue to take an active stand against discrimination and take whatever steps I feel are necessary when I see acts of discrimination committed against someone.
As a teacher I daily reminded my students of the horrors of discrimination and tried to enable them to develop understanding, tolerance, and finally acceptance of everyone regardless of race, religion, culture, or gender. Each semester my students were assigned projects in which they had to research and interview someone from another culture. The student was to have a clear understanding of the culture upon completion when they presented their "facts" to the class. All presentations had to be in a positive tone and a guided class discussion followed each presentation so that all students had a clear, positive understanding of the culture.
It is only when parents and teachers have changed their attitudes and taught our young people understanding, tolerance, patience, and acceptance of others that hate and discrimination will be eradicated in this nation. No, we have not had mass exterminations of people like in Hitler's Germany or in recent day Rwanda and other countries in the world. But just because things have not progressed to this level in our country - yet, does this mean we should allow this behavior and discrimination to continue. I think not. So tell me, what can YOU do about this problem?
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