For many years, I worked as an Executive at the Advertising Research Foundation, a trade association in New York City. Part of my job, in the earlier part of my career there, was to organize conferences. Every two years, we partnered on an international conference with ESOMAR, our counterpart in the Netherlands.
At one particular conference in Austria, I joined a group of conference attendees around a high top table in the bar. We were chatting about the conference, the city and various other subjects. When I said something innocuous about one of the topics we were discussing, one of the male attendees, in a loud and abrasive voice, said, “I hate Americans,” he got up abruptly, and made a show of leaving the table.
This man did not know me. He had never met me before. I had not been discussing politics, religion or any other of the myriad issues that can raise ire. He did not know my belief set. He hated me simply because I was American, and because of the perception he had of Americans. Such is the reality of most prejudice. The bigot sees only his or her own perception of reality.
Now this is not the first time I had encountered racism. I’d experienced it when I lived in France as well, but usually to a less obvious and obnoxious degree.
This experience, which I still recall vividly some 20+ years later, offers an important lesson.
I am more than a little concerned about the polarized path we seem to be taking, as a country, that is akin to the ignorance displayed by the man mentioned above. We seem to be forgetting our roots. We are a country that was built on tolerance, not fear, hatred and bigotry. That is not to say that we have not had dark periods where people were persecuted in the name of religion, or for the color of their skin, or the nature of their heritage. It certainly does not mean we are free from these evils even now.
But I would have hoped the horrific lessons of WWII would lead us to higher ground where we could not be as easily seduced by racist ideology, homophobic attitudes and religious bigotry. I would have hoped we, as a country, would be ascending toward higher ideals rather than falling victim to baser emotions and gang mentality, rising from fear and ignorance. The past should serve as a lesson.
If this is, indeed, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” let us stand united and fearless against intolerance, and against the people who flame the fans of hatred, ignorance and persecution. Let Freedom Ring.
This editorial, written by Carol White Llewellyn, and does not necessarily represent the views of RCTV’s staff, Board of Directors, Producers or Members.
“Liberty Bell 2008” by Tony the Misfit on Flickr – . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.