About a year and a half ago, I penned a column for the Gazette titled, “Why You Cannot Have a Rational Discussion with Someone on the Extreme Left or Extreme Right.” At that time my thoughts centered on Facebook. I have always found it productive and enlightening to have dialog with individuals who hold beliefs which are different from my own, as I am of the opinion; “You will never learn much of anything by only talking to people who agree with you.” So, as social media roadblocks continued to be placed in the way of having meaningful dialog online, I was becoming increasingly frustrated.
I am a person who tries to draw heavily on my life experiences to reach a conclusion. One instance I remember vividly, occurred around mid-1970, when my family was camping with friends at Lake Success. It turns out my buddy’s daughter was going to meet us there, and he asked me to watch out for her. Well, that evening I saw her driving by and proceeded to yell out, “Hey June, we are over here.” When she did not seem to respond, I tried to yell louder. Suddenly I realized how foolish I had been acting, and I started laughing at myself, because June is deaf.
On that note, I thought of the number of times I found someone trying to get their point across, by repeating their position, only louder the second time around. When it had no effect, an attack on the messenger followed, with personal insults and name calling in abundance. People who use those methods do not seem to understand that an individual’s perceptions will not change by telling them they are stupid and yelling they are wrong. The best a reasonable person can hope for is to gain the other individual’s trust, while getting a better understanding of the other person’s perspective. Plus, if you lay out your position well, it might start the other person thinking about what you said. In some instances, if you proceed using a respectful dialog, instead of approaching the subject in an abrasive manner, you may find out you are actually in agreement, even though you were unaware of it.
I was hoping the social media situation would get better, but the opposite occurred. The next conversation sinkhole we fell into was, when a person ran out of answers, they would attempt to steer away from the subject, by saying something such as, “I don’t like, or trust, him or her.” After falling for those tactics a couple of times, and realizing nothing of value was being accomplished, I developed a strategy of, refusing to continue dialog on a subject when the other person would not agree to stay on the topic at hand. Sure, it ended quite a few discussions, and even though I had to be satisfied with just walking away, I ended up consuming a lot fewer Rolaids. (Just kidding, but I’m sure you get the idea).
Unfortunately, today we seem to have slid down to the bottom of the conversation mountain. Some individuals have discovered “dog whistles,” even though they cannot hear them, and use the term to find “racist” meanings everywhere. Now, vanilla ice cream is a symbol of white Supremacy, everyone you do not agree with is a Fascist, you will be ostracized if you dare to take exception to the policies being brought forward by an individual who is a member of a minority, and our young adults are traumatized by seeing a painting of George Washington. God help us, if those who see racism at every turn go to the supermarket and find cookies and cream or chocolate chip ice cream. I shudder to think of what will come next. In fact, it has gone so far that I don’t know of any public official who has not been called a racist by someone. Yet, if I thought any of the above nonsense was truly the way the public perceived reality and acted, I would be worried. Instead, I find my interactions with folks in the real world to be pleasant and respectful. It makes me angry the media spreads this negative and divisive view of American culture.
If you were to ask me, do elements of racism still exist in our country? I would respond by saying, unfortunately, I realize it does still exist in some circles. At the same time, during my lifetime, our country has come a long way in embracing diversity. For example, in 1952, when I lived in Florida for a year, I witnessed real overt discrimination and fear of retaliation on the black community.
When I moved to Santa Clarita in 1965, I was greeted by a young man who showed me his KKK membership card, and warned me about the problems I would encounter being Jewish in the Santa Clarita Valley. On the other hand, my wife’s coworker at Kaiser was another nurse named Alice. She and her husband Jess became our good friends, and we were honored when they became our children’s Godparents. It floored me, when after inviting them to our house, they questioned if it was OK for them to be in our neighborhood. Why, because they were black.
Fortunately, today as a country, we continue to improve race relations, one small step at a time. During my career as a Department and Project Manager, my management noticed my department’s diverse workforce.
During the Affirmative Action Years, when asked how I did it, my answer was, I do not try, I hire based solely on an individual’s ability to satisfy the job requirements; diversity just comes naturally. In addition, Santa Clarita has become much more of a melting pot, and I am now a member of an organization which would have excluded me, for religious reasons, 60 years ago. I am encouraged by our communities taking this more enlightened direction and am looking forward to the United States staying on the same righteous path. It would be very upsetting to see the process diverted by those just looking for political gain.
So, how do you spot a racist today? If you hear a person talking about an entire group of people in a disparaging way, the person is a racist. For example, if someone tells you, all Muslims are terrorists, all Jews are only interested in money, or all the problems encountered in the United States are caused by old white guys, the person is most likely a racist. If you question the policies put forth by an elected official, and someone tries to say you cannot because the official is a member of a minority, the person is a racist. In the United States, if you know of a specific policy which you are opposed to, or an inappropriate action taken by an individual, you should be free to express your beliefs, no matter who the person is.
Eliminating racism is everyone’s responsibility, and Morgan Freeman said it best — “How do we stop racism? Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man”.
If we would all follow Morgan’s suggestion, and simply treat everyone with the same level of respect you want the next person to show you, discrimination would be eliminated. Then at that point, we will be able to sit down, and respectfully talk about the issues, while keeping an open mind, and learning from the experience.