Just when you begin to hope that racism, hate, and intolerance are beginning to dwindle, the Terrible Trio sneak back into the limelight to remind everyone that people - for all our beauty, knowledge, and love - have serious potential for ugliness.
In the news, Cliven Bundy, the cattle rancher from Nevada who illegally grazes his cattle on federal land, changed from local hero to zero when he wondered if (to paraphrase him) black people were better off as slaves. To make matters worse, Mr. Bundy responded to criticism by stating (and I have to quote this):
If I call — if I say negro or black boy or um um uh slave, I’m not, uh, I'm not, uh, if those people cannot take those kind of words and, and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet. They should be to able to, I should be able to say those things and not offend anybody. I didn't mean to offend them.Then we have Donald Sterling, the man who has left behind decades worth of ugliness. A decent summary of some of his quotes can be found on this website. Basically, Sterling is a divorce lawyer who became a billionaire as a slum lord in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and as the owner of the L.A. Clippers. In 2009, Sterling settled a law suit with the government to the tune of $2.73 million (plus another $4.9 million in attorney fees and costs), a suit based on his racially discriminating rental practices. Last month, TMZ broadcast a conversation where Sterling told his girlfriend that she could have sex with black people, so long as she doesn't publicly associate with them. The conversation began because his girlfriend posted a picture of her standing with Magic Johnson. Now, the NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million. Not that the fines matter - either one - because the man is a billionaire. A few million doesn't really effect his bottom line.
Moving to the Internet, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) created an interactive hate map, a widget that lets you click on one of the states to see a list of hate organizations registered in the state. Let me clarify this, the organizations are registered with the state as businesses or non-profits, not registered as hate organizations. But I suppose all those chapters of the Klu Klux Klan don't really need to register for people to know it promotes hate.
Yet it's not the slew of KKK chapters that is bothersome. It's the depth of hate out there, the number of groups of people bound together not by love or general social obligations, but by hate. The SPLC has to list the ideologies on separate pages because there are so many out there. From anti-immigration and anti-LGBT, to several forms of white supremacists to black separatists to all sorts of religious bigots- including the Holy Church of Odin -the SPLC tracks formalized ideologies that exist to hate nearly anything about anybody.
Sadly, even our government has legalized racism and intolerance. Beginning with the Constitution, Article 4, clause 3:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.The federal government then passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 to create the legal framework and mechanisms for slave-catchers. When some of the free states tried to ignore and/or undermine the federal government's stance on slavery, the government then passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Throughout history, the federal government legalized and acted in racial discrimination. Their actions include:
- Stealing over 25 million acres of good land from the Native Americans after forcing them to move to less-desirable lands,
- Taxing the blacks while denying them their rights,
- Purposely segregating non-whites from white communities,
- Using "separate but equal" to legally justify discrimination,
- Putting American citizens of Japanese-descent in concentration camps during World War 2,
- Putting American citizens and legal immigrants of Arabic-descent in jail after 9/11,
- Targeting Hispanic people for illegal search and seizures in the name of the "War of Drugs",
- Targeting black people for, well, everything,
- Targeting Mosques and Arab people because of wars happening on another continent,
- et cetera, et cetera, et cetera
To be honest, this list only scratches the surface of the injustices done on a federal level, completely ignoring the racism and intolerance at the state and local level. (I'm looking at you, Arizona.)
We live in an unprecedented time in history. The majority of people don't need to grow or hunt their own food. We have time to debate philosophy, to ponder the meaning of life, to artistically express ourselves. Technological advancements allow us to first define the box and then think outside of it. Medical advancements allow us to live well beyond the fifty-year mark, with a good quality of life for the majority of the time. With an abundance of food, clothing, shelter, and energy, you would think that people would be happy, celebrate their existence. Instead, people find reasons to be suspicious of others, to fear the "evil stranger", to cast aspersions on others based on tiny mutations in DNA.
So what can anyone do about this?
Be nice. That's it, no fancy speeches or philosophical soliloquies.
Just be nice. If someone does something that offends your sensibilities, be nice and don't be around that person. If someone marries someone and you don't like the marriage, be nice and don't socialize with them. But in the end, being nice and tolerating everyone is the only real choice we have if we want a better society.
The choice is yours. Choose wisely.