Is this who we are?
The recent events in Charlottesville were troubling and frightening. The images of adults carrying Nazi and KKK symbols, with weapons, openly in our country, brought back many terrifying memories to those of us that grew up in the fifties and sixties. Segregation in the south was a reality during those years. Civil rights activists were beaten, arrested, and killed. To take a stand against segregation and for equal rights took enormous courage. A friend of my family was one of the civil rights activists who was killed during that era.
During these demonstrations, I heard one radio commentator state— “This is not who we are”. But another commentator said something that struck me as more truthful— “This is who we are, but not who we want to be”. Despite enormous changes over the last 60 years, including the election of an African-American President, racism and prejudice are still part of who we are. It’s a sad truth.
Prejudice is a fact of life. We grow up reading the news and magazines, watching television and movies, listening to stories, hearing bits and pieces of conversation, and these images, ideas, and attitudes are absorbed by our minds, like sponges soaking up dirty water. Our society, with its broad means of cultural communication, transmits preconception and prejudgment into the inner recesses of our consciousness. They reside there—often out of awareness, despite our intellectual understanding that prejudice is unfounded. It’s subtle. Anyone of us that thinks that we are free of racial or religious stereotypes are fooling ourselves.
I have experienced the pain of being a member of a religious minority. As a child, I was called a “dirty Jew” by some older kids, who bullied me. My daughter, when she was a young child, was told by a friend— “I can’t play with you because you’re Jewish”. Over the years, I’ve heard anti-Semitic remarks from individuals, who didn’t realize that I was Jewish. All of us who are the victims of prejudice feel pain, anger, sadness, and fear.
And what about the lives lost in Europe fighting the Nazi’s? What about the lives lost in the Holocaust? What about their families deprived of their loved ones? To see adults chanting Nazi slogans in our own land, filled with hate and violence, brings fear to my heart. It’s bad enough that these attitudes are in some people’s hearts. But it’s even worse that they feel empowered to bring these beliefs onto the streets, in plain view.
Hopefully, these events will bring about more discussion about racism and prejudice in our society. This would be a positive outcome of something that is very ugly.
I love watching little children in the playground. Still unacculturated, they don’t see color through the lens of preconception. They are truly color-blind, if even for a brief moment in the trajectory of their life. It reminds us of what’s possible for all of us. It reminds of us of who we once were and who we want to be. It reminds us of who we can be.