Since the first immigrants arrived this has always been a Euro-centric place. Surely that’s understandable, since it was Europeans who were the primary immigrants for a very long time. Of course, after a while we started importing Africans to be our slaves, but there was no need to change our orientation, since Africans weren’t considered full human beings. Some time later people began to arrive from Asia, Mexico and Central America, but the Euro-centrics were the huge majority of the population and continued to be the powerful, the culture controllers.
The Euro-centrics were something else. too: they were mostly Protestant. The Founders and most of the immigrants and most of their descendants where Protestant, so that has been the dominant religious orientation from the start. That the Founders inscribed freedom of religion into the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: . . . “) had no impact on that, so white, European Protestants have been the dominant force in America.
In the early 1960’s I overheard a conversation between two men. One was saying with obvious concern, perhaps anger, that Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs star, had purchased a house a couple of blocks from where he – the speaker – was living. This was in Chicago, a starkly divided city of neighborhoods where Poles, Italians, blacks, Jews and others pretty much stayed in their own area. It was birds of a feather flocking together for safety. And here was good ol’ Ernie, a black man, purchasing a house in a white area. So, I asked what seemed to me to be an obvious question: “Are you going to picket his house with your neighbors, or ask for an autograph?”
My question wasn’t received well, as you might imagine, as my irreverent attempt at humor was a poke in the eye to this fellow’s quite serious, “He’s not like us and I don’t like him and don’t want him living down the street from my children” attitude. His ignorance led to fear, which led to hate. He was not alone in his behavior, nor has that ever been unusual.
Seema Jilani wrote a stunning and deeply disturbing piece for the Huffington Post about American racism today. Read this piece with the knowledge that your sense of right and wrong, fairness and even simple courtesy are at risk of feeling violated. And know that hers is similar to the day-to-day experience of millions of non-white or non-Protestant Americans. If you’re feeling really courageous, do a gut check on your own prejudices. Unless you’re somehow immune to the messages that bombard you daily to fear what is different from you, stoked continuously by political manipulators, you may find something there.
We humans do reasonably well with what is known to us and typically fear what is not known. It’s a survival instinct and it worked well when our ancestors were living in caves and every day brought existential threat.
Almost on our doorstep is something that is not known – what American life will be like when white Protestants are a diminishing minority, incrementally losing power and control. Just imagine all that racism reversed – shoe on the other foot, so to speak – and having to endure the slicing and bleeding of discrimination a hundred times a day just to function in every day life.
Did you say that you just want to be tolerated by those who are different from you? No, you did not say that. Nobody wants to be tolerated. Other than Dick Cheney, we all want acceptance. Toleration, by definition, suggests that others are willing to hold their noses in your presence, as though that is somehow better than beating you up.
So I’ll tell you what: I won’t tolerate you and you can stop trying to tolerate me. Let’s instead pull a Rodney King: “Can we all just get along?” King didn’t live long enough to see that happen. We haven’t yet either, but perhaps we can do something about it now.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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