Hate and discrimination do not make any country great. America, let’s not repeat the same mistakes.
“I’ve spent a month short of 78 years dealing with angry white men and they make me jumpy, to say the least.” That’s how my good friend, Ernie McCray began his most recent posting on “Angry White Men” in the San Diego Free Press. Reading it gave rise to many of my own trepidations as a grandchild of the Holocaust.
Raised in Tucson Arizona, Ernie grew up at a time when blacks were relegated to second-class citizenship because of Jim Crow Laws. During his childhood, blacks could not eat in white cafes, swim in white pools, skate at the rink with white people, go to schools in white neighborhoods, stay in the hotels, or sit anywhere but the balcony at the movie theaters. He remembers an unarmed black friend being killed by the police for allegedly “disturbing the peace.”
My story began 67 years ago in New York. Born to Jewish parents, named for my Uncle Kaseal, an attorney in Vienna who spoke out against Hitler and was murdered by a band of Angry White (German) Men. Growing up on McDermott Road in Rockville Center, New York next to a Country Club that did not allow Jews, I would listen to my Aunt Eva’s stories of what it was like to escape from Munich, say goodbye to her parents, and hide from Nazi’s in the basement of a French family for two years.
Fiercely determined to fit into the tapestry of America, my father worked hard to become a successful businessman and member of our community. I may not have “looked like a Jew,” but I lived with the fear that the underlying hatred of Jews would one day catch up with me. And it has at times in my life. The Angry White Men of Ernie’s childhood hated people with dark skin, while the ones in mine hated Jews.
The sharp edges of hatred and inequality deepened Ernie’s and my commitment to never be like these people, to develop a sense of social justice and compassion for all who suffer (including Angry White Men who were down and out, and feeling hopeless). It also led us to champion the kind of understanding that leads to equal opportunity and peace. These ideals have guided our lives as much as anything, which brings us to the new and terrifying strain of racism that has raised it’s ugly head in America.
The Constitutional edict that “all men are created equal” seems to have resurfaced once again in our nation. Across the battle lines of a bloody Civil War, Civil Rights Movement and, more recently, the public outrage around racial profiling, human rights, and equality are on trial. The popularity of Presidential Candidate and Reality TV celebrity, Donald Trump, as he calls out our mixed-race President, Muslims, and Mexicans to the mantra of, “Make America Great Again” is very telling. Even more telling is the degree of support he has garnished.
“Trump’s angry white men have resided in the world of the silent majority” says Ernie, adding “they’ve seethed at the sights of mosques being built; cringed as Chicano and African American families moved in next door or down the street from them; pouted at the very notion of affirmative action; swooned when the confederate flag was lowered and removed; cursed the “political correctness” that has caused them to hold their pent up feelings in.” Ernie concludes, “Trump lessens their fears. Tells them it’s all right to let off a little steam and kick a little ass.” The idea that some men are less equal and threaten our way of life by virtue of their religion and race, has awakened the heart of fear in White Supremacist America. And even more disturbingly, it has resonated with millions of voters across our nation who have made “The Donald” into the Republican frontrunner for the office of President of The United States of America.
What about the rest of us? How are we feeling about “Those Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, and Jews” these days? We’re all admittedly concerned, if not scared, over the violence, economic hardship, and threats to the environment we see in our country and the world. Are we turning fear into hatred? Indifference into silence? Bigotry into votes? Or building bridges of understanding, rather than walls? Are “we the people” holding ourselves and one another accountable as stewards of this nation? Creating the inclusive, collaborative atmosphere in which Democracy thrives? Building a sense of community? Cultivating a vision on common ground? Working together to bring reasonable, rational, concrete strategies to the table (that can be implemented)? Diffusing the fear? And summoning the courage to create a better future?
Over coffee, Ernie and I came up with a Code of Civility we believe is the antidote (actively or silently, consciously or unconsciously) to perpetuating hatred-and-fear driven thinking and behavior. It is as follows:
1. Take responsibility for the fears and sense of actual threat we feel as opposed to projecting our fears onto others.
2. Build bridges of understanding, respect and compassion in hearts that translate to our families’ neighborhoods, communities, nation and world. Actively promote peace.
3. Soften and humble our hearts to the plight of others and do what you can to help them in the ways you would want other to help you and your family.
4. Do your homework on who the real enemy is and support local as well as national efforts to protect you, your family, your neighbors and our nation
5. Forgive ourselves and ask for forgiveness from others for the ways we have hurt others (in the spirit of truth and reconciliation)
6. Call out fellow citizens who are “feeding the beast” of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, violence and hatred. Hold them accountable to perpetuating destructive ways of thinking and behaving.
7. Take a compassionate stance in reaching across the aisle to listen, understand and speak to peoples fear, pain and discontent.
There may always be Angry White Men, Women, African American’s and Jews in our midst. By rededicating ourselves to being the antidote, moving from anger and fear to higher (common) ground and turning our diversity into opportunity we can make the world a safer, better place for all our kids, grand kids and future generations.
By Dr. Ken Druck, with Ernie McCray