I haven’t had a chance to read extensively about what is going on in India but from what little I know, it seems like fear mongering and hate rhetoric have become the tools most used to take control in the country and divide people. The situation in the US isn’t any different.
The world over, politicians are increasingly using words and fear to create a divide among people, much like they did in pre-World War II Germany. The “us against them” mentality is spreading and is creating a hateful world.
In the US, you can see this mentality in the way immigrants are treated as well as in the current administration’s Zero Tolerance Border Policy. According to media reports, more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents after crossing the southern US border. That policy has since been replaced, following a public outcry, with one that detains entire families crossing the border illegally.
I would not like to comment on the merits of the policy, but I wish the country stopped treating immigrants as criminals. In most cases they are not evil; most of them are here because they have nowhere else to go. Being a parent as well as a grandparent, I also worry if the hatred and fear being spread will come back and hurt my family.
I have seen the country change. What I see around me pains me. Nationalism and xenophobia are creating a downward spiral. One of our promised rights and supposed bastions is freedom of religion and, unfortunately, it is often defined as freedom of MY religion. Regardless of the religion we believe in, be it Christianity Judaism, Islam or Hinduism, we are all praising a supreme being, each having rules about living a good life and being kind to others like “Love thy neighbour.”
No religion is superior or inferior to the other. People tend to forget that and allow politicians to use religion to divide us. As an academic, I believe education creates an open mindset allowing people to see beyond race or ethnicity.
Extremes have taken over both sides of the political spectrum in my country. You cannot be a moderate in the middle, like I am. I am 58; I have seen the political and religious divide growing. I think our current President saw it and was shrewd enough to take advantage of it.
I am a soldier’s son, born in Germany and raised in the United States. I have served in the Army for 20 years and have been to places such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I love culture and cultural differences. Travelling the world working on humanitarian aid missions has given me the opportunity to engage with people of other cultures and understand them. There is so much that we can learn from others and I am sure many feel the same way. I do not understand why some people look down on people of colour.
Each of us is in essence like a rubber band ball. Culture is developed as if adding one rubber band after another. Some rubber bands are wide and comforting; some are thin, tight and painful, with a variety of sizes in-between adding to the construction. Each new rubber band changes the mass, density and dimension of the ball and how it will react to outside stimuli, just as the layers of culture change how we as humans react to situations.
I believe it is one of the many faults of human beings to be insecure and, as a result, pettiness, racism and bigotry are often used as a defence and often as a weapon to make others feel smaller or themselves bigger and stronger. I believe military personnel grow to be more tolerant, especially of their peers and team mates. When I was in the Army, we trained, fought, and relaxed. Skin colour was not an issue.
I live in rural Georgia, an area that is racially balanced. The racial divide is still obvious, though not predominantly. There is a lot of bigotry, prejudice and racism in other parts of the country as well. There are many instances that prove it. In 2015, a white supremacist shot and killed nine people in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina eventually decided to take down a Confederate flag that had flown at the state capitol for years, but that was met with protests from white racists. In Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists opposed the city’s plan to take down Confederate monuments.
There are socio-economic reasons as well for the bigotry and racism that we see around us. I know a lot of white privileged people who won’t take up certain jobs as they think it is beneath them. Life has been rough for black Americans, and I believe it is even more difficult for foreigners of colour.
Being legally blind, I have experienced prejudice first-hand. It has made me more aware of what it feels to be on the other side. I was once at a job fair; the person didn’t even bother to look at my resume. He saw my cane and made up his mind.
My experience and my educational qualifications did not matter. Deep in my heart, I felt a sadness that I had never felt before. Finally, I truly understood what prejudice felt like and it was a very sickening feeling. I have had advantages because I am white. Until something happens to make you understand the other side, you do not realise what they must be going through.
I remember my childhood; there was a lot of racial tension in the Sixties, but unlike previous decades, it wasn’t socially acceptable to be racist. I think we are going back to a situation where it is becoming socially acceptable to be racist, ugly and nasty to anyone who looks different. The seeds of hate take a long time to go away; I think the country will take a long time to recover.
Are there countries that we can learn from? We keep hearing about unrest, racism and bigotry in most countries, but I don’t recall hearing or reading about such instances in Canada, the Scandinavian countries and Brazil. I can’t tell you why that is the case, or why these countries seem to be better at building bridges. It is something worth looking into though. Unfortunately, I think many people will always believe we don’t have anything to learn from other countries.
Is there a way out? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. I hope there is a moment of enlightenment when people realise that we cannot go down this path anymore. Education and communication will help, but how do we educate a large section of people who are blind to the truth?
The author is faculty member in the Department of Communication, Columbus State University, Georgia, and advocate for people with disabilities