Writer Joseph Forrest with his father
I grew up in Tennessee on the banks of the Tennessee River. My familial ancestor helped form the Ku Klux Clan. My whole upbringing was steeped in this divisive social mentality of “Us vs. Them”. I rarely saw black people where I lived and those that I did see kept to themselves. Even as a young child, this bothered me. The fact that I was supposed to consider someone with a different skin color as a lesser being made no logical sense to me.
When I finally ventured out on my own into the real world, I experienced so many cultures I couldn’t begin to list them here. It was an eye-opening experience, and while I found discrimination everywhere, I found more that were accepting and willing to share their culture with me. One thing that I did find, from shepherds in Afghanistan and sushi chefs in Japan to a fellow drinker in Ireland, is that people all want the same things: to feel safe and accepted.
This made me completely disown that part of my upbringing. I can’t find it in myself to hate someone because they’re different in some way. It also makes me one of the odd ducks in my family that doesn’t support that tiny-handed, Tribble wearing Oompa Loompa that’s running for President. I’m cool with that.
There is a thread of fear that is woven inside of us. It’s a fear of the unknown. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors used this instinct, it was essential in order to survive. Fear is still a healthy emotion as long as it doesn’t rule you.
Discrimination—against people of varying genders, colors, sexual orientation, class, and such—is based in fear. People still fear what they don’t know and there are thousands and thousands of con artists out there preying on that fear to push profits and agendas. All you have to do today is tune into the news and you find one of our Presidential candidates pushing fear as a tactic to get elected to the highest office in the land.
For those of us who still want to live in a sane world, this madness is building to a crescendo that is hard to ignore. So why can’t we stand up and speak for those who have no voice? Why do we find it so hard to intervene when we see such injustice?
Personally, I believe we find it hard to step in and say something because that means we have to put our beliefs out there and they become concrete. You have chosen a side when you perform an act of intervention. With that comes a certain amount of responsibility and consequence that an individual would not have if they were to remain silent.
Today, when I hear disparaging remarks thrown in anyone’s direction, I say something about it. I choose a side. I stand up for others because it’s the right thing to do. I speak out because if they have no voice, why not give them mine?
We need to teach our children that it’s not okay to hate someone simply because they’re different. While this may seem like a daunting task, all you have to do is set an example. Show them what it means to be a compassionate, good person.
Finally, we need to get active. I’m a firm believer that once you recognize something as evil, you should do everything in your power to fight that evil. Discrimination is evil. We need to pick a side and stand up. We need to volunteer for organizations fighting the good fight. We need to protest. We need to write to our leaders. We need to get off our ass and do something, because if we keep walking down this road, there will be worse tragedies.
Let’s be heroes. Let’s make a difference. Let’s change the world.
Photo: Joe Forrest