May 17, 2010
Consider, too, Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell issuing a proclamation celebrating Confederate History Month (can you imagine the mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa, celebrating Apartheid History Month, or the mayor of Berlin declaring a month to commemorate the killing of all the people who tried to climb over the Berlin Wall?) "right to carry" proponents wanting to stage an armed demonstration on the National Mall, and Arizona governor Jan Brewer signing a "breathing while Brown" law and giving the police sweeping license to discriminate and racially profile anyone who is not White, and it's clear that hate is in the air.
And let's not even mention the disrespectful way that some people have treated our nation's president, or the hateful caricatures circulating on the Internet of President and Mrs. Obama. The election of Barack Obama has made it clear: America is changing, and there are some among us who will do anything to stop it from doing so, including propagating hate and inciting violence.
One of the ironies of knee-jerk hate is that it can motivate people to act against their self-interest. This is perhaps most apparent among members of the Tea Party demographic, many of whom protested vigorously against health-care reform even though they are often the very people who stand to benefit from it the most.
I almost want to laugh when I see senior citizens carrying signs saying "Keep government out of my health care," when I know their "health care" is Medicare. Without the government in their health care, they wouldn't have health care. The political ideology that opposed the creation of Medicare in 1965 is the same ideology that opposes health-care reform today.
While I'm frightened by the level of intolerance that we're experiencing, the renewed willingness to justify violence, and the willingness to use hyperbole in order to incite people to violence over issues, it is the lack of a credible countermovement that I find most disturbing.
There is a call from the radical right to take back their country. But our nation cannot be defined by hate, intolerance and exclusion when the statements most associated with two of our nation's most iconic symbols -- the Statue of Liberty and the Declaration of Independence -- are "Give me ... your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" and "all men are created equal."
Our strength lies in our diversity and our interconnectedness. It's time for the rest of us to stand up and claim that America. It's time for the rest of us to call out the haters and stop giving them a pass. I don't believe that everyone can or should agree on everything. But demonizing one another is not the answer, and hate is not okay.
The late poet Pat Parker asked, "Where will you be when they come?" I don't know how this battle for the hearts and minds of America will end. I do know, however, that the outcome will depend both on what the haters do and on what we don't do.
Yours in the struggle,