Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Racism and Hatred in American Culture

The Arizona Daily Star did a profile earlier this week of Tucson resident Jim Zwerg who joined civil rights activists in the 1960's for the Freedom Riders Movement.
On May 20, 1961, Jim Zwerg and 21 others boarded a Greyhound bus in Birmingham, Ala., bound for Montgomery, and ultimately, New Orleans.

Some on the bus were white, like Zwerg. Most were black. All were Freedom Riders, testing interstate bus segregation in the Deep South, which had long ignored a 1946 Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice.

Arriving from Nashville, then arrested and let go in Birmingham without incident, they were now about to feel the full fury of hate bearing down on them in Montgomery.

Out of nowhere, the howling mob descended — men, women, children — carrying bricks, hammers, baseball bats.

There's an image of Mr. Zwerg at the link, showing his face severely beaten. The consequences for speaking out for equality and justice were nearly fatal for that young activist. I wish I could possess even just a drop of that type of courage in a similar situation, because unfortunately the same disparities exist in today's society.

Many Americans pretend that the days of lynch mobs are over, but I beg to differ. They are alive and well, but have taken a more subtle and sinister form. Since September 11th, 2001, the populace of the U.S. has been radicalized in such a way that the hatred and racism needed to commit such horrific violence is always boiling below the surface, waiting for a perfect moment to lash out. Here's an example from today's Star.
The office building of a black Tucson attorney was vandalized, including having swastikas and a racial slur spray-painted on an outside wall, police said.

The vandals also broke a window and started a fire on a window sill, causing further damage, police said.

Doris M. Reed, a contract lawyer for the Juvenile Court, who also privately handles family law cases, arrived at her office on Speedway near North Stone Avenue about 7:30 a.m. Monday and found three swastikas and a racial slur painted on her building, said Joann Thompson, Reed's assistant office manager.
According to the article, this is the third time in three years that this particular office building has been defaced. I first learned about the incident via the 10 o'clock news last night and it got me thinking (scary, I know).

The political establishment in Washington, D.C., specifically the Rovian GOP and White House, has spent so much time pitting everyone against each other that the days of bipartisanship and reconciliation are a long shot away. They have bred so much distrust and disgust at anyone who holds a different viewpoint than them ("Other-ness" in the Eegian vernacular) and been so successful at it that we all model their behavior in some form.

I can see it everwhere. Even within the liberal blogosphere. It's nearly impossible to disagree with someone on an issue without feeling like a line has been drawn in the sand. The Flying Spaghetti Monster knows that I've been guilty of harsh words plenty of times, but there are moments when I'm left speechless by the lack of compassion and willingness to listen from the other direction.

All emotions exist in varying degrees. I have found that the key to a healthy lifestyle is striking a balance that feeds the good ones such as compassion, love and humility while not completely ignoring the latent shadows of hate, xenophobia and racism that exist inside of me. To deny that they are there in some form allows them to grow and fester without my knowledge. While I may never spray paint hate messages on the building of a perceived enemy, or beat up another human being until they were unrecognizable, I could make statements or observations that are damaging towards the dignity and respect entitled to all human beings; even those, and perhaps especially those who refuse to show me the same courtesy.

Personal responsibility is one of those things that is bipartisan and universal. There will always be others who have no concept of that type of individual accountability, or outright reject it, but I have to be willing to hold myself to the highest standard if the tide is ever going to rise again in this country and flood out the toxins.

No comments: