Who Are We?

With the exception of gay rights, America doesn’t seem to be moving in an inclusive direction.

Quite the contrary.

As I write this, I’ve just looked at a lengthy strand of twitter comments about the new Miss America. She’s of Indian ancestry, and that fact unleashed some truly despicable comments about what it means to be both beautiful and a “real” American.

In the wake of President Obama’s election, overt racism has mushroomed; the sort of sentiments that simply weren’t made in polite company have become commonplace. Blatantly racist emails circulate among the like-minded and (occasionally) other appalled recipients , and racist blogs and Facebook posts are daily occurrences.

It’s not just race. The past few years have seen us take giant steps backward with respect to women’s rights. Bigotry against people who appear to be from the Middle East has hardened, and “Muslim” has become an insult, rather than a description of someone’s religious identity. Immigration reform? Forget it. Anti-immigrant sentiment has stalled even modest Congressional action.

And of course, legal and social progress notwithstanding, gay slurs continue to be thrown around with abandon.

So what are we to make of this ugly time we are going through? Are we just going through a particularly pissy phase, made worse by economic insecurity and rapid social change? Or is the nastiness a permanent part of the American landscape—one that has always been here, but (thanks to the Internet) is suddenly “in our face” in a way it never was before?

Over fifty years ago, a social scientist named Gordon Allport wrote a seminal book, The Nature of Prejudice.  The book was written right after President Truman integrated the Armed Forces, while Americans were coming to terms with the presence of “colored” soldiers bunking down with the white ones. Then as now, other social shifts were intruding on “the way things have always been.”

Allport’s great contribution was to distinguish between prejudices that were simply an outgrowth of widely held social attitudes and those that were central to an individual’s identity. He found that most people who expressed bigotry against blacks or Jews (then the most frequent targets) were not invested in their negative opinions –they had simply accepted common stereotypes about “others,” and they could be educated to change what were essentially casual beliefs they had never really examined.

The other category was much smaller, but also much more troubling. These were the individuals that Allport—who founded the discipline of social psychology—described as invested in their bigotries. For whatever reason—bad toilet training, lack of parental affection, abuse—their belief in the inferiority of designated “others” had become absolutely central to their personalities. Education would have no effect at all on their attitudes.

The question we face today, of course, is: into which group do today’s haters fall? And which category will define America going forward?


  1. The Christian Taliban types are now fed daily doses of crazy from Hate Radio. They feed each other via Hate Radio, Hate Internet and Fox news. 30 years of Rush & Sean and the rest has an effect on people. The more the crazies feed each other, the worse life will become for the “others”. WHY do corporation continue to advertise with these people? Until they stop the money, the crazy talk will continue.

  2. Yesterday I received a copy of the magazine, “Teaching Tolerance” from the Southern Poverty Law Center. This program is a teaching aid for educators to recognize racism and bigotry in all it’s ugly forms; with offered materials to provide tools to open conversations between teachers and students. Part of the problem is the lack of tolerance evidenced by teachers and school administrators which we have seen locally regarding the bullyng and sexual abuse by athletes against one lower level student on the sports bus. A very handy excuse for delaying any action was that the bus was enroute, across counties traveling between schools. Sadly, this became a very public issue but the very brave 15 year old victim stood his ground with family and legal support. Teaching Tolerance is sorely needed at all levels of education from kindergarten through higher education and in all education providers. I have to ask; who is going to educate the educators who are racist and bigoted?

    My grandson at age 12, suffering from severe anxiety disorder, was bullied by students in his Catholic school. He is very shy, does not make friends easily and does not participate openly in class projects but is a good student. His younger brother was bullied for being his brother. Their mother is a school employee who witnessed frequent abuses and witnessed teachers ignoring all of it. Her requested meeting with teachers and administrators resulted in denial of any bullying of either child so the situation was ignored and continued. Then the teacher attempted to prevent the older boy from participating in ISTEP with her other students; she claimed he was retarded and would bring down the class grade average. This required another meeting which resulted in my grandson being allowed to be tested with his classmates; his scores were higher than almost all other students in his class. After two years of these abuses, my daughter-in-law removed both boys from school and is homeschooling them. Both boys make above average grades and excell in math and science.

    Parents sending their children to private schools, whether religion-based or not, probably believe they are providing not only quality education but a higher quality teaching facility. Ain’t so, folks, it just ain’t so!

  3. Joann’s beautiful comment says it all–especially the one statement: “His younger brother was bullied for being his brother.”

    We’re so NOT there yet; in fact, we are now further away than we ever were.

  4. I’m with Pat that I believe it’s Rush/Hannity hate radio and Faux Spews 24/7 liberal bashing that has continued the racism and brought it front and center. Since the President was elected, it’s gotten 100% louder! If folks are shamed from their racist views, they might shut up but right now, they have a format to announce to the world how racist they are. The internet and Twitter are full of commentators that wouldn’t have the guts to say those things in public for fear of being called out.
    And to be quite honest, MSNBC is the liberal outlet to bash conservatives every night with their political commentary against conservatives. I can’t stand to watch them anymore and yet everyone has their damn tv on everyday from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. Some even use the sleep timer to shut it off instead.
    What have we become as a society when we allow these media giants to feed our minds with “US against Them” all day everyday? It’s not just brown, black or skin color, now it’s men against women’s (rights) and against gay people too.

  5. I am in Oakland, CA for my 50th high school reunion and reconnected with dear friends that I went to school with – not only high school, but also elementary and junior high. Many of them are African American, since the schools I attended ranged from being 50-70 % Black. Those formative years were the 50’s and early 60’s when I routinely attended integrated schools because they were neighborhood schools and not because of the need to desegregate. My childhood friendships and experiences allowed/allows me to easily accept racial/ethnic and religious differences. I hope the implicit message here is clear.
    I am eternally grateful for the non-academic aspects of the education that I received from my friends and classmates. As an aside, It was fun to hear from an African American friend that when we were in the 4th grade, she had a crush on me!

  6. Pat and Aging Little Girl are also spot-on! When that first guy in the audience yelled, “Liar!” directly at President Obama, that one action seemed to open the door to being more physical and aggressive with inappropriate comments. How dare he say that to the President of the United States? He did and he got away with it.

    ‘Til then, it seemed to simmer, just under the bar of acceptability. Huge amounts of disrespect are now spewing in all directions from hate radio/TV, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else these lowlife individuals can find to spread their hatred.

    There must be something that we as reasonable people can do to stop the madness or at least get it under control. I personally use the on/off switch or change channels. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter, nor do I have plans to make myself more angry by adding those to my life.

    Sheila provides a wonderful venue for us to let off steam. Thanks, Sheila!

  7. Joe Wilson (Rep- SC) yelled “You Lie” to President Obama’s joint session of Congress on Sept 9, 2009.

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