R & B has been all over the news lately in Mississippi, but sadly, I am not talking about rhythm and blues but racism and bigotry. Although Mississippi has gone to great lengths to cast aside its image of intolerance and build an image of tolerance and enlightenment, there are still some people, as we have seen lately, who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past. Call it ignorance, hatred, or a combination of the two, they insist on judging their fellow man rather than trying to understand him, and that is unfortunate for all Mississippi. As long as there are people who embrace intolerance, Mississippi’s sordid past will never go away completely.
Like the measles, racism and bigotry are diseases we had hoped with heightened awareness, an enlightened spirit and time we could eradicate. Yet, with the recent racist remarks of Mississippi State Representative Gene Alday and the despicable racially motivated beating death of Gary Anderson in Jackson, the disease has shown itself to be just as ugly and present in our state today as it was fifty years ago. Hopefully, the hurtful ignorance of Mr. Alday’s words is not an indication that such feelings exist throughout the state legislature, but when an elected official speaks so irresponsibly, his words can’t help but reflect negatively on peers and colleagues as well. Likewise, the horrific action of the young people who beat Mr. Anderson and then ran over him with a pickup truck not only brings back memories of the racial injustice and horror of Mississippi’s past, but sheds serious doubt on the state’s progress toward racial tolerance. We can only pray this was an isolated incident, but even an isolated murder of a man due to the color of his skin should not happen in the 21st century. So, why did it happen? Where did these young people learn to hate and have such intolerance for a fellow human being? Mr. Alday is of an age where his words might be weakly excused as ignorance from a past era, but what is behind the hatred that led to Mr. Anderson’s death? Where was the tolerance that these young people should have been taught at home, in church and in school?
Unfortunately, tolerance seems to be in short supply these days, especially if what people are asked to tolerate does not fit neatly into what they consider the norms. Social media are prime examples. Often through social media, people express their biases with little regard that there are most likely impressionable kids in their audience. For example, there are people on social media who advocate an America made up solely of English speaking Christian non-immigrates. That is all well and good, but does that mean if a person speaks English but worships in a Jewish synagogue, he does not belong in America? I think not, but a child who does not understand that religious expression is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, may think otherwise, especially if he/she is subject to the same biases at home. Also, the proliferation of the non-immigrant myth is as ludicrous as it sounds, but this is not an argument for or against immigration, but rather an argument against the bigotry of standing behind America as a one language, one religion nation. It is bigotry since such views show a distinct intolerance of the language and religious beliefs of other citizens of the United States. If adults choose to be narrow minded, that is one thing, but what happens to children who are exposed to such narrow minded thinking day after day? What happens when they do not have proper guidance in dealing with such ideas of intolerance? Do non-English speaking people who do not practice Christianity become less human to them? What if the color of their skin is black, brown, or yellow – does that make them less human? The scariest part is that social media is only a small part of the problem; it is just one example of how children can be exposed intentionally or unintentionally to bigotry.
Racism and bigotry go a lot deeper than social media, the color of a person’s skin, lifestyle, or beliefs. There are those who make a living on racism and bigotry – some in the name of money, some in the name of God, some in the name of civil rights, and some in the name of hatred and ignorance. And, then there are those who truly strive to rid the world of racism and bigotry. They understand the two come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They understand that both are an adult problem. Racism and bigotry are an adult disease without regard for race or class that are forced on children who in turn become adults forcing it on their children. This perpetual cycle of collective cultural ignorance exists in our communities, our schools, our churches, and our government, but although it grows and is often allowed to fester in these places, none of these is the root of its ugly beginnings.
Racism and bigotry begin at home with the mamas, daddies, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who intentionally, unintentionally, or out of ignorance feed it to children. Children are not born into this world hating! Children are not born into this world caring if another person’s skin is white or black! Children are not born into this world concerned about another person’s lifestyle! Children are born into the world only with the imprint of God on their souls. It takes a nurturer to wipe that from them and replace it with hate and prejudice. The home is where racism and bigotry are cultivated, massaged, nurtured, and molded into the disease that unless we find a way to vanquish it forever will eventually destroy us. Racism and bigotry may begin in the home, but the road to victory over racism and bigotry begins in the home as well. Mother Teresa said it best, “Peace and war begin at home. If we truly want peace in the world, let us begin by loving one another in our own families.” Likewise, peace from racism and bigotry comes with tolerance and tolerance begins in the home.
©Jack Linton, March 1, 2015