I am a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. I try to find the humor in any situation and look for love and happiness to be at the foundation of everything I do. But lately I have questioned how we can drive out the hatred that is still so prevalent and thriving in our world. I have to say a lot that has been happening in my own community and the world beyond has made me really question if we can truly live in a place where hatred has flatlined.
Recently, Lancaster, a village in Western New York has decided to retire their Redskins mascot for its racially offensive symbolism against Native Americans. They’ve chosen the mascot of ‘Legends,’ which I think is an admirable mascot. It also keeps in tact a sense of tradition that many feared losing by retiring their former mascot. However, the decision wasn’t greeted warmly by all. What really broke my heart was hearing of people (mainly adults) attend a school board meeting and turn their back on a 13 year-old girl who designed the new mascot’s logo. A man even yelled “Hail Hitler” (or something to the offensive effect) to a school board member who is Jewish.
All because of a mascot. I’ll be honest, I respect the sense of tradition the school community wants to uphold. However, holding onto a hateful symbol of racism to uphold a sense of tradition? Are you kidding me? I have pride in being a Red Raider and a Golden Griffin, but if either of those mascots represented the depth of injustice that the Redskins mascot represents, I don’t think I could stomach feeling pride in them. I watched on the news as high schoolers marched in protest to keep the Redskins mascot and I thought to myself, these kids do not know what they are saying or doing.
After all, high school kids are just that – kids. I know I’ve been one. You think you are an adult until you get through college and have some life experiences and only then when you have to experience the expectations of an adult, are you one. And I really feel these kids do not know the depth of hatred that their former mascot symbolizes. I think it is because it is hard for those to empathize with others who are different from them unless they are exposed and immersed in those differences.
According to the 2000 Census, and yes I’m a tad out of date, Lancaster is made up of nearly 99 percent of white families, with not even a full percent making up any other racial demographic. Maybe some things have changed in that community, but not enough I’m sure to make the white population a minority. And yes, white teenagers in Lancaster, NY know absolutely nothing about racial injustice. A textbook can teach them about slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement. It can make a throwback to the Trail of Tears, or even be current with issues like immigration reform that are happening right now, but they can never experience racial injustice. That’s because white Americans have never had to be a minority and had to feel the inequality of being subjected to prejudice and hatred all because of their skin color.
I recently asked a friend what they thought about immigration reform. They, like me are a young, white, middle-class male. However, their response was much different than mine. “We need to stop letting people in. We’ve allowed too many people in already.” My response was a simple question: “If you were a single mother and had three kids and you lived in a village that every night was being raided by guerrillas and you feared day in and day out you could be raped or killed and you had the chance to flee to America would you?” I never got a definitive answer. What I got instead was a long pause and the same “Well we just need to stop letting people in. We’ve allowed too many people in,” response. This told me that my friend is way too comfortable holding on to his ignorance. He is not willing to even place himself in another’s shoes. I wasn’t calling on him to march down to D.C. and protest for change. All I asked for was a simple moment of empathy and that he could not manage. If we cannot manage this baby step, what change will we ever make?
I’ve also been turned off by the hatred towards Caitlyn Jenner. I’ll be upfront to say I don’t know a single transgender person. I’ve never met one and to be honest, I myself am ignorant toward transgender and gender identity issues. I, myself, am not prejudice toward this population, I just haven’t been exposed enough to these issues. Call it my own problem or a lack of willingness on the part of our society to have the conversation about these issues, either way the hate thrown at Caitlyn is unnecessary. I have seen countless posts on social media saying that what Caitlyn did was not ‘brave’ nor was it ‘courageous’ and she should not be hailed a ‘hero.’ Rather the members of our armed forces and others who put themselves on the line to help others, are heroes. It gives the impression that those who physically put their lives on the line for another are the only heroes out there, and I don’t think that’s true. Call me crazy but when did one person’s willingness to put their vulnerability on display in order to make the world a better place NOT be labeled as heroism? That isn’t to say members of our military are any less of heroes, by all means they are heroes and should never be thought of as anything less. I’ll agree all the docu-series and television interviews about Caitlyn’s transition along with the connection to the sensationalized Kardashian reality television show can cause some skepticism. I can see that and I think that’s why many are calling the decision to give Caitlyn the Arthur Ashe Award – as Bob Costas said – ‘crass.’
There is a fine line between breaking down the walls in order to have a conversation and the exploitation of a serious issue for some type of gain be it fame, money or power. And yes, when I heard of the laundry list of other athletes who were deserving of this award, I thought anyone of them could take it, but it doesn’t make Caitlyn any less deserving. We need to stop looking at others as less than ourselves just because they may be a little different than us.
I don’t think the Lancaster students are horrible and I’ll be honest, I don’t think they are racist – not in the slightest. What I think they are is ignorant and uninformed. I find that only when we have a conversation and open ourselves to people that are different from us, can we learn something and realize that maybe a few moments ago we weren’t as aware as we can be at the present. When we open our minds up to realizing that hate is real but be willing to see the humanity in others and see the similarities despite the differences, then I think hatred doesn’t stand a chance. But until then, the hate is real and it is kicking us in the ass.
So to all my friends who haven’t been subjected to injustice – mainly you white males out there – take a quick second and take my lead. Close your mouth. Open your mind. Close your mouth. Open your heart. Close your mouth. Open your soul. Then, open your mouth because only when your mind, heart and soul are open can a true conversation be had and only then can hatred be less threatening than it is today.