Sunday, June 29, 2014

When did bigotry return to fashion?

Intolerance, lack of respect encourage double standard

I was shocked, saddened and, initially at least, more than a little angry over an encounter I had on Facebook in the middle of last week when I publicly shared a link to a story about an ACLU report critical of what it called the militarization of our police forces.

The encounter also left me asking: When did it ever become OK to refer to people as “white trash?” It is racist and reminiscent of the equally reprehensive term “trailer trash.” Ultimately, both terms are expressions of disdain or hatred based on economic status — in other words, they are class-based slurs. How can these kinds of terms be any less hateful than other racial or ethnic epithets?

As a nation, we have worked for such a long time, sometimes futilely, it seems, to eliminate such epithets from our lexicon. Yet, we seem to have little trouble finding substitute targets and slurs.

I believe I probably lost this Facebook “friend” on Wednesday for two reasons:

  • One, I called his use of the term “white trash” racist and said that I would not tolerate it.
  • Two, he became angry with me because we differ on a political issue — gun control — and perhaps others as well. Because I support gun rights, he decided to attack me personally, saying, “you’re just part of the problem, aren’t you?”

I would point out that while I support gun rights, I do not hold to the no-compromise positions the NRA seems to advance.

Moments later, I realized he had unfriended me, which was his right.

It seems to me, however, that the situation reflects a greater, dual problem in America today: Bigotry, which is a narrow-mindedness that is intolerant of other viewpoints, long has been the norm in Washington politics, where it is politely called partisanship. It endures in plain sight among both Democrats and Republicans, and it gives rise to an us-versus-them mentality that clearly places party priorities above those of voters.

And it appears to be spreading, giving rise to a far too-prevalent double standard in our purportedly free society. It says, “I have a right to my beliefs … but you do not.”

Rarely is it said so plainly, but the attitude and animosity are clear. Actions, after all, speak louder than words. When discussion devolves into personal attacks, ridicule, cursing, hateful words, and intimidation, then reason has departed and with it, respect. What remains does nothing to advance the discussion and in fact serves only to build greater enmity.

This is most plainly visible in Internet threads, where people add their comments to articles, blogs and similar posts. Often, what begin as intelligent, thoughtful discussions devolve into profane, hateful diatribes.

At its core is a lack of respect — whether for the individual or for the group. Unless we restore that respect — in other words, until each of us starts giving respect freely to others — I fear the growing vitriol I see will bubble over more and more, perhaps even violently.

America, renowned as the melting pot where cultures came together to forge a newer, stronger culture, is failing. I believe that restoring respect can reverse that.

Finally, one of the great ironies in a situation where a personal, or ad hominem attack is made is that it often serves as an admission that “I have run out of good arguments to prove my point and to discredit yours.”

So remember that the next time you hear a Republican call a Democratic proposal “socialist,” or the next time you hear a Democrat call an ultra-right Republican a “tea bagger” or obstructionist.

Chances are, they simply have run out of intelligent things to say.

Note: I declined to name the individual referred to in this post for several reasons, not the least of which is respect, but also because this exchange only serves to illustrates a broader concern I have had for years.