Opinion

Let’s discuss America: Racism vs Bigotry

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

I grew up in the Bronx, in a poor family. Our neighbors were also poor. They included African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, all the usual hyphenates. There were Jews, Catholics, Christians, a blend of all types among us, but as children we were still too young and ignorant to know we were supposed to hate each other.

What we did realize, however, was the obvious fact that we were from different races and religions. Some of us were white, others black, some brown and so forth. 

Did that make us racists? I certainly did not think so, and I still do not. Even among the so-called whites there were many differences. Some were fair-skinned and blue-eyed, some were blond, some had darker complexions and darker eyes. Was it wrong to notice that? None of us thought so.

We played together in the streets, not yet realizing we were supposed to exclude someone because of color, race, religion—we lived in a true meritocracy. Regardless of their ethnicity, the best athletes were chosen first when the teams were organized for basketball, stickball, touch football, baseball and the other games we played. I admit, I was usually one of the last ones picked, but only because I was not a great player, not because of the way I looked.

So where did the hatred come from? When did the Whites start hating the Blacks, why did the Protestants begin making fun of the Catholics, and how did it happen that everyone started despising the Jews?

Not from racism, that is a complete misnomer. Anyone who does not acknowledge that there are different races on this planet, and in this country, is a fool. The problem is bigotry. The evil begins when the recognition of someone’s race or religion causes us to pre-judge that individual and to treat them unfairly as a result. That is bigotry, but where did the people who engage in that sort of prejudice learn it?

The human condition is an interesting thing. Love comes naturally to us. We are instinctively drawn to our parents, we bond with our siblings, we become close with friends, we generally admire our teachers and tend to respect our elders. 

But bigotry has to be taught, lessons some of us learn from those they trusted most. Just awful, I know, but true. Look back to your own past and try to figure it out. Who taught you to hate Jews or look down on African-Americans or disdain Asians? Surely you were not born with those feelings, no rational person could possibly believe that. Be honest with yourself as you ask this critical question—Where did you learn to hate?

Whatever the answer, you must see that our wonderful nation is now being torn apart by that insane and illogical hatred. People with differing views are unable to have a civil discussion with each other. We are overwhelmed with anger, we harbor divisive agendas, and the news is dominated by those who want to rip apart this incredible country. So sad.

Where is the voice of reason that will pull us back together? Where is the new John Kennedy, Martin Luther King. Jr. or Ronald Reagan? People who made us all feel good about being Americans. Our politicians talk about “uniting” us, but do you really see any of that happening?

In the end, we are one people who share innumerable problems that need to be solved by serious leaders who really care about us rather than themselves. COVID-19, unemployment, children without enough to eat, minorities who are not being properly educated, elders not receiving proper care, veterans who deserve better and on and on. Then there are the enemies lurking beyond our borders, including China, Russia and Iran. 

It would be folly to deny that there are some evil people in our society. There are certainly bigots, domestic terrorists pushing violence, and those trying to tear down our country and replace it with a socialist state that will never be. All the while there are shootings and beatings, when we need peace and understanding. We need to address all of these things. But how?

What we all need to do now is to celebrate our differences, acknowledge the various races that comprise the great American Melting Pot, support each other, and not allow bigotry to poison this wonderful nation.  And what we need to know now is who is going to lead us from this darkness into the light, who is going to restore the American Dream for everyone?

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Jeffrey S Stephens
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