Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trayvon Martin & Racial Attitudes in the U.S.

The Trayvon Martin killing has hit a nerve and renewed a dialogue on racial attitudes in America.

Frankly America, we have a problem. Too many people stereotype others simply because of their color or their religion. Those attitudes are holding America back from reaching its greatest potential. Our strengths come from our diverse population.

It's a dialogue we' have needed since President Obama was elected. We didn't have it after he first came into office because the economy was falling off a cliff and we had bigger fish to fry and economic battles to fight. But now that the economy has put the worst behind us and is improving. So this is a good time to have that discussion.

The problem became obvious right after President Obama was elected. I was stunned how casually some people, usually whites who assumed I thought like they, who would refer to him using the "N-word." This started when he had hardly been in office nor had a chance to do anything. He was prejudged simply because of his color.

Not only that, our country's first black President was blamed for an economic situation he did not create but merely inherited. Never mind that the prior President, George W Bush inherited a $300-plus billion SURPLUS. On his first day on the job Barack Obama didn't get a surplus but a lump of coal -- a $1.2 Trillion DEFICIT his first day in the oval office. Yet certain people still used the "N-word" to describe him. It made me wonder if the same people would do anything to prevent him from succeeding in turning the economy around, because of that prejudice.

Maybe it was because I was born in Iowa which has had a history of treating people with respect regardless of color. If you have seen the movie "The Tuskegee Airmen" you'll see what I mean. The main character was a young black man from Iowa, who is stunned along with those from New York when the train crosses into the South and the recruits are forced out of their coach - to make way for German prisoners of war. They faced enormous hostility in their training.

I saw the change when my father moved our family to Texas in 1965 when I was turning 16. People seemed to bring up race a lot, in a negative way. I never understood it frankly. Why hate a person just because of their color? It made no sense to me.

My early career sent me to over 30 countries while working for two Texas Fortune 500 companies, and I got to know people in place as diverse as South America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Having long dinners and meetings with negotiators in Brazil and China and in places like Nigeria introduced me to the real people of the world. In it I found almost everyone to be the same. All wanted freedom and opportunity, a chance for an education and that human desire for respect.

My convictions strengthened when I ran for Congress in Ft. Bend County, Texas -- which was and is one of the most racially diverse counties in America--a model of what America will soon look like. During the campaign I went into many different kinds of churches, synagogues, temples and even mosques. In each one I heard almost identical lectures -- be a good parent, work hard, pray, be a good person. No one was teaching hate or "jihad."

Over time I realized something that a lot of people may have missed -- that we are all the same and that no one group has a monopoly on good or bad. I've found good and bad in each group. As M.L. King once said "It's not the color of the skin but the content of the character" that counts. He was right. Just this week an Iraqi women in California was beaten to death by someone who left a note behind, calling her a "terrorist." She wore a headscarf. Now her children are orphans.

Today, I still hear people eager to stereotype others. Recently I was shocked when a candidate for the Texas legislature, a Democrat no less, made a comment on Facebook about "Muslims wanting to take over America." Evidently he has never met any Muslims. I wondered if he'd been listening too much to 'wingnut radio.' The Muslims I met when I was a candidate (in several GOP primaries and one as an independent) just wanted to fit into America like everyone else. The ones I met overseas treated me with respect. No one tried to convert me.

So when people say nasty, negative things about Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, Jews, Muslims, Women, etc. they are casting doubt on God's own handiwork. They are being racist and sexist. I can't think of anything more un-American, a country founded on the principal of equality. If a white person steals a car or commits murder, do we condemn all whites? Then why do people condemn all Blacks or Hispanics for the acts of a few? Why call a woman a "slut" for wanting contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and abortion?

God made us in his image. The only difference is that at the end of human assembly line, we each got a different "paint job" just like the cars at the end of their assembly.

Perhaps the case of Trayvon Martin will be a wake up call. We as a nation cannot excel when we insist on classifying entire groups as bad because of something they cannot change, like their color or sexual orientation. Diversity has always been America's strength.

Young people get it -- many of them grow up with friends who are of different race and religion. They are a role model for older generations who seem to be living in the past and judging people by their color or economic status, not by the content of their character.

America is not strengthened by hate, which has filled our airwaves. Shooting kids of color does not make our neighborhoods safer. Casting aspirations on Hispanics working in meat plants and doing labor Americans won't touch doesn't help us either.

It's time Americans stood up for the principles that made us great - treating all people with respect and judging people by their actions.

If you agree, post to Facebook, etc. and hit "Share." Between us, we can make it a better America and a better world.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments from real people welcome. The only comment rule is "BE CIVIL." Let's discuss SOLUTIONS based on real FACTS.

Thanks for your feedback! Click "Subscribe" or "Follow" for notification of future posts. Feel free to Share with your friends.