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Monday, November 27, 2006

Prejudice Core?

If you didn’t catch the latest column yesterday from Jann Murray-Garcia and Jonathan London—“Build Immunity to Homophobia,” you missed out on a very nice piece primarily penned by London where he asks “where are the young people getting the message…”

For those who missed the Michael Richards (forever known as “Kramer” from Seinfeld) tirade caught on tape—there is a very similar issue at work. For as you watch Richards explode at his African American hecklers, he launches into a racist profanity filled tirade. One is for a moment tempted to write it off as something that happens in the heat of the moment. But we need to stop and think for a second. For in his moment of anger we see the purity of thought absent of any socially correct filters. And at that moment he looks at an African-American in the face and sees a “Nigger.” Unless there is part of him that sees African-American in such light, that’s not going to be the word that he jumps on.

And that brings us back to our own backyard, to the young junior high school student, whose only crime may have been he was a bit too cocky or perhaps he had no crime at all; it just doesn’t matter. Kids bully. They look for the most vulnerable spot and they hit on it again and again and again until it becomes raw and bleeds. That’s the way kids are. But that too is no excuse. For you cannot call someone gay epithets in a fit of anger without looking at them and seeing that the word “gay” or its more pejorative derivations as epithets.

There has been a lot of talk in the last year about the dark underbelly of Davis ethos being a little less pristine than some might like to believe. I do not know how deep it goes, but there is a very dark and ugly strain of racism and homophobia that infuses our liberal veneer. Most of us seem either unaware of this problem or we bury our heads in the sand. We bury this side of us deep down however, because at our core we are ashamed and we know it is wrong. That’s why it comes rushing to the surface in the most ugly way when we are angry and our protective barriers are lowered.

London asks the critical question about homophobia that we should be asking not only about homophobia but racism and prejudice in general. “Where are the young people getting the message?” And it goes to the core:
If you really believe that it is not coming from you (the parent), the adults in their lives, then it is all the more necessary to institute proactive, systemic, school-site curriculum and character training programs that counter and reserve the insidious messages from the “other” parents and/ or media-saturated peers.
None of us want to think of ourselves as prejudiced or racist. We go to great lengths to deny it. And yet in children we see a weaker barrier of social correctness, we see in them what is worst in us and it is laid out bare for all the world to see, just as we see it exploding to the surface in the anger and hatred of Michael Richards. Has it been there all along? We dare not believe the answer is yes, but at the end of the day, we wonder, just maybe whether it is. (Or in our less frank moments, we deny it altogether).

The first step to fixing any problem is to admit that we have one. In all the talk that has occurred over the last year, not one person in a position of power or influence, not one, has admitted that there might be a problem in this community. We get into defensive mode and want to believe that things are not so bad here. We defend our neighbors saying this is a good community. We defend our police saying that they have a tough job where they put their lives on the line. And we are right—this is a good community and police do have a tough job.

Our young people are the ones who shall lead us into the future and we need to teach them the values of the future, a future where hatred and prejudice go by the wayside. But we can only do that if we are honest and frank with them, because unlike adults, children can see through the bs. We need to teach our children that it is wrong to look at someone different from them with fear and mistrust. That at the core everyone is just a person and is entitled to be treated as a person. And we need to teach them to not be bystanders, to stand up when someone acts out of hatred or ignorance and tell them that it’s wrong and that you will not tolerate it anymore.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting