Thursday, October 21, 2010

We Are All Bigots

Welllll, maybe not bigots per se, but I would definitely like to meet the person who truly is without prejudice of one sort or another. We all have it and we all do it on a daily basis; we are animals, after all.  Survival requires constantly taking the measure of any single situation and being prepared.  The difference between us and the rest of the Earth's beasts is that we get to be conscious of it, if we so choose and make a real effort.  We get to use our lovely brains and ability to reason to counteract our atavistic animal instinct.  And we can use our loving hearts to help us see the humanity in all people.

Today we learned of Juan Williams' firing from NPR.  I think this was an overreaction, and that's a shame, because the tut-tut-terati have encouraged the scapegoating of a man -- an "elite", no less -- who, unwisely but honestly, admitted to a knee-jerk fear and prejudice.  We can call it wrong until the cows come home, but in the final analysis, he was merely giving voice to the fears of many out there.  Does that make it right or ok?  NO!  Is it yet another one of those teachable moments that keep popping up?  YES.

So what does NPR do?  Instead of shining a light on this issue, bringing Williams on to explain further what he meant -- perhaps giving him a chance to remind us all that such feelings are wrong and we have to be ever-vigilant against allowing fear to pre-judge individuals or groups? -- they bum rush him out the back door naively hoping to maintain some sort of editorial purity.  So, now, instead of making the news, they will have to report on the aftermath.  I suppose that's safer, but it also seems very unNPR.

This brouhaha comes on the heels of another story this week about President Obama taking a pass on visiting a Sikh temple in India.  Why?  He would have to cover his head, as is customary and required; and, considering most Americans cannot distinguish between a Muslim headdress and a Sikh one...well, you know the rest.  So, once again, instead of tackling a tricky issue head-on -- and exposing a little ignorance in the process -- we steer clear and miss a golden opportunity.

Bigotry and prejudice should have no place in our world; but, guess what:  it does.  Our choice, in our constant effort to identify it, recognize it and fight it, should not be between ignoring it or passively (or actively) opting to avoid it to keep our hands clean; it should be to call it out whenever we see it and address the fear that creates it.  Neither NPR or Obama did that this week.  NPR chose to vilify, and the White House handlers caved to ignorance.


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