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Politics & Power

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Another Open Letter to America

With the campaign of Barack Obama, a person of mixed ethnic background, bringing African Americans closer to an actual seat at the table of power than ever before a quiet discussion about race has begun anew in America. From questions about the beliefs of Obamaís former pastor to his speech on race in America to answer those questions the issue has bubbled just under the surface of the race for the White House for months. A recent online poll found that many Americans (as many as 40% of those surveyed) still cling to racial stereotypes and biases that have plagued civilized society for millennia. That is nearly half the people polled. It has come time to have this discussion in an open and honest manner. As someone in a mixed ethnicity marriage and the father of a mixed ethnicity child this issue is very real and personal to me. For that reason and others I feel that I need to speak out about this issue impacting all of us and what we need to do to address it.

To start let me say for the record that racism and bigotry in many forms is far from dead and gone in America. From access to quality education to subtle discrimination in housing our society is one that is divided and unequal in many ways. There are some people who seem to think that if we ignore a problem that is not obvious and in our faces it will simply go away. That never has been nor will it ever be the case. The way to solve problems is to bring them out into the open and work to find solutions to them utilizing as many sources of reliable information as possible. To solve the problems of racism and bigotry we need to first identify them honestly and then find what can be done to correct them.

Firstly, we need to admit that racism and bigotry are alive and well in America and the world as a whole. People see race even when they donít consciously realize they are seeing it. When an employer sees a job application with the name Jamal Walker or Jose de la Cruz or Xian Zhou or John Smith they instantly get some impression of what the applicant will look like and their cultural predispositions regardless of the fact that many job applications donít even have a question about the applicantís ethnicity on them. Depending on under what conditions the employer was raised and experiences that they have had their impression of the person based solely on a name will be leaning toward positive or negative. It is unavoidable that our experiences will color our judgment. That is human nature. That being the case we need to consciously think about the biases we might have and take steps in our own actions to put those preconceptions aside to make informed decisions based on real, quantifiable information regarding the decision we are making. We can only put race and culture aside in our decision making if we acknowledge that they could represent subconscious factors and focus on excluding them consciously from our decision. This is also true of gender, religious and sexual orientation biases. We need to remind ourselves that stereotypes are largely inaccurate and unreliable for making informed decisions. We need to evaluate individuals based on their merits and not preconceived notions about what they might represent based on the intangible aspects of their personalities.

Secondly, we need to recognize that environmental conditions shape our views and learn to see in ourselves the areas in which we can overcome our instincts toward prejudging people we donít know. This part of dealing with racism and bigotry is the most crucial if we are to actually lessen the pervasiveness of racial and cultural biases in our culture. Something as simple as a joke, based on a stereotype or misconception, can color your view of an entire group or raise the tension between you and a person from that group. We all have been guilty of this type of joke or laughing at one. It has nothing to do with hating that group in most cases. Many of the jokes can be self-deprecating but still offensive to others. When we hear someone we know promoting stereotypes we need to call them on it and make it clear that those types of judgments are neither funny nor acceptable in a thinking society. If we have a negative experience with a person of a different ethnicity than ourselves we need to remember that it was their personality and not their race that drove their actions. There are just as many jerks that look like us as there are that donít. There are criminals of every ethnicity and saints of every color. Goodness and evil come not from how we look or who we love but from how we act. All thinking people have choices in the actions we take. Many sinners stand in the pulpit and many saints on the street corner. Without knowing the individual on a fairly personal level we are ill equipped to make a judgment about their character. We need to remember also that just because someone of notoriety says something does not make it so and it is imperative that we look at the evidence objectively for ourselves when we measure the quality of a person.

Lastly, we need to overcome the idea that nothing can be done to overcome our biases and change the tensions that exist between different ethnic and cultural groups. Humans are capable of suspending their previously held beliefs in order to find a greater truth. In 1492 the majority of people believed that the Earth was flat yet Columbus convinced three shiploads of men to sail into the unknown to disprove that. At some level they had to suspend their belief in the nature of the world to make that journey. It is possible for people to change their nature to some extent but there needs to be a willingness to change. Only through the eyes of objectivity comes progress. Open minds drive the future while closed minds hold us back trapping us in the past.

As we contemplate electing an African American to be President we are also, in many states, wrangling with the issues of equal marriage rights for homosexuals. Funny enough many of the same arguments that are being made about why gay marriage should not be allowed were the arguments made to support the prohibition of inter-racial marriage fifty years ago. No great calamity happened as a result of inter-racial marriage and none will result if homosexuals are allowed to marry. Really there is no difference between the issues other than perceptions about the issue. They are both about equality and equal treatment for everyone under our laws.

Some base their opposition to gay marriage on religion as did many who opposed inter-racial marriage before it was legalized. Religion has a place in our lives but it cannot be allowed to be used as a club of hatred and exclusion as a matter of public policy. Legal marriages and religious marriages are two very different things. Marriage as a legal institution is a matter of a binding contract between two people validated by the state, nothing more and nothing less. Marriage as a religious institution is a matter of a belief that the marriage is consecrated by a higher authority unrelated to the contractual agreement entered into with state sanction. With the protections of religious freedoms afforded in state and federal constitutions churches are allowed to marry or not marry whomever they feel should or should not be married. No legalization of marriage of any type will change that. If you as a parishioner feel that your church should not perform marriages you donít feel conform to your religion that is a matter to take up with your clergy, not the state. No more should religion dictate public policy than public policy should dictate religious belief. The two are separate and inherently unequal. Religion should not have the powers of the state and the state should not dictate religious dogma.

The issue of gay marriage like many other divisive issues is one where the debate is often based on errant assumptions. If one is to assume that marriage as an institution would be irreparably damaged by the inclusion of gays then there is on some level a belief that the heterosexual marriage institution is too weak to stand in the face of an alternative viewpoint being tolerated. If the institution is strong then the expansion of the institution to be more inclusive should not pose a threat to it. It should in fact make it stronger as it will add members to its ranks. The more likely situation is that there is an irrational fear of homosexuality on the part of fundamentalists and therefore they strike out against it to keep it from threatening their fragile world views. A truly faithful person does not fear for their institutions safety. They know that if they believe they will inherit their reward regardless of what others do.

So, how do we address the bigotries and biases that plague our society? I have an idea that might be a start. We need an inter-cultural council made up of people from all socio-economic and ideological backgrounds that is chartered to meet and discuss issues facing our nation and take recommendations to our legislators for legislative and educational solutions to the problems. By getting everyone around the same table the group has legitimacy and can actually work on building a dialog to find real solutions to real problems. Some problems may require laws where others require the education of people to help them to understand that there are as many similarities between cultures as there are differences. Like the childrenís book says ďeverybody poopsĒ. There are commonalities between all people and it is in those commonalities that solutions to problems related to our differences can be found.

There is no need for people to struggle for the dominance of a single culture or ideology if we all have the same rights and responsibilities. If one ideology is not allowed to dominate the discussion then it becomes a much more civil conversation. It is up to us to find that common ground though. Power can be intoxicating and once held is rarely relinquished easily. It is up to those who support the powerful to come together and bring a demand for change. There needs to be a social revolt of sorts to bring more tolerance to the system replacing the demagoguery that dominates the discussion now. Short of that nothing will ever change for the better of all.

Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer | Give your feedback on this article. | Click icon to Digg this article



Get Involved

Do you sit and yell at the TV when politicians come on? Do you shake your head sadly whenever you see a homeless veteran? Is that all you tend to do?

It's time to put up or shut up America. We all love to talk about how we could do things better or how we would do it if we were in charge. Well, it's time to put your money where your mouth is. If you can think of it, you can write it down. If you can write it down, you can type it. If you can type it, you can e-mail it and if you can e-mail it, you can send it here.

We at Reform America are committed to giving voice to anyone who wants to put their ideas out there to make our nation a better place. As the readership grows, we are able to take those views to a wider and wider audience. Grassroots campaigns begin with voices speaking out. You have opinions. Voice them. We aren't about conservative or liberal. We aren't about pro-this or anti-that. We're about Americans and the First Amendment. Reform America is about politics by, for and of the people. You are the people. You only need to speak up. America is listening. Send your article to: stories@reform-america.net



Have You Been Downsized Due to Outsourcing?

For several years now we have listened to some within the business community tell us that America can't compete on a global scale unless they send our jobs overseas where they can be done cheaper. The question becomes, if we don't have good paying jobs here, how can we sustain our own economy? We want to hear from you. Have you lost your job? Have you been forced into a lower wage job due to outsourcing? Has outsourcing been a success for you? Did you end up in a better job?

Tell us your story so we can make sure the politicians see how outsourcing really impacts the workers who are backbone of America. Send your story to stories@reform-america.net

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