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The first step to change is to acknowledge there is a problem. Bigotry and racism is still alive and well in the United States. We can make a hundred laws against it, but laws do nothing to change “hearts and minds.” The most recent public debate has been about the remarks made by Donald Sterling but I believe we are all bigots to some degree. We just don’t tell people, at least not in public. We all have/had thoughts that we wouldn’t like to admit about someone who looks or acts different than us.
The other day I was meeting someone at a local coffee shop. I arrived early so I found a comfortable chair in the corner and observed what was happening around me. There were students studying at a table, someone typing on his laptop and many coming in to order a drink and then leave. Then two men came in. I am guessing they were around forty years old. One white guy and one Latino. They took their place in the que and that’s when I noticed the white guy’s arms. He wore a tank top that exposed several (faded) tattoos. My son is covered in tattoos and I have one of my own, so I always look what other people have inked on their bodies. This guy had the word “white” inked on his left tricep and “power” on his right one.
I was first taken back. I’m sure I was staring. I never saw anyone in person before who had such a tattoo. A million questions flooded my mind. I wanted to go up to him while he waited for his order, to ask him why he got those particular tattoos. How old was he when he got them? Does he still feel superior to people of color? Why is he hanging out with a Latin male? Is his racism only towards Blacks? Does he regret his decision? What was he thinking?
Then an older Asian woman arrived along with her African-American male companion. They stood right behind the “skin head.” He did have a shaved head and most pictures I see of new generation racists call themselves skin heads, so that’s the word I came up with. Did the black male see the white guy’s arms? I noticed it from twenty feet away; these guys stood less than five feet from each other so he had to have noticed. If he did, what was he thinking?
My son’s tattoos represent his life story (so far). What about the skin heads life story? What was going on in his life that made him want to make such a public statement? Such a permanent one? I will never know. I never asked, mostly because I thought my questions might create a scenario that might make me the lead story on the evening news.
But I am still thinking about it. This person openly displayed his beliefs on his skin but how many of us privately believe the same thing as him? And I am not just talking about judging people by the color of their skin. Bigotry comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders. How many believe the LGBS community do not have the same rights as heterosexuals? There are battles raging in states right now over the Constitutional right for them to marry. Most individuals cite religious reasons as to why they shouldn’t, but (let’s take the Bible as an example) they also ignore other religious teachings. What about working on the Sabbath? Coveting thy neighbor’s wife? How many of these bigots (that’s what I think they are) can even find the passage that backs up what they believe? Some say God said it and that settles it. What if I said, “God told me your an asshole.” Would they believe that? If not why not?
I think most bigotry and any kind of “ism” — racism, sexism, ageism is caused by fear. The fear of someone who looks different than us. Maybe its part of being tribal. Let’s be honest, most of us are comfortable being around those who at least look like us. Just look a the demographics of any major city and you will see groups of people who choose to live in the same neighborhoods, for instance San Francisco; there is China Town (Asian), The Mission District(Latino), The Avenues (Russian), and North Beach (Italian).
There is nothing wrong with that but thinking one group is superior to another is a huge problem. Killing someone because they think, act, or look different is ignorant. We see it on the news all the time, especially between fanatical religious groups who think their God is the “right god.” How many times have we heard the Klan base their racist beliefs on Christian teachings? Racism and bigotry has nothing to do with any religious teachings that I ever read, but it is used as an excuse to hide behind. If we just admitted we don’t like someone because we just don’t, it would be a good starting point. Then we can figure out why we don’t.
Forbidding someone to speak their mind because it bothers some is not going to solve anything. We have to figure out why we believe the way we do and that will only happen with dialogue. Open and honest dialogue. We aren’t born racists or bigots. Someone taught us to believe what we do and we can unlearn it. We have to question our own beliefs to understand the beliefs of some different than us. And that includes the beliefs of those we call racist or bigots.
If we truly want change and I believe we do, we have to do some soul searching, and that has to begin with ourselves.