By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Prejudice is like an onion. You peel away layer after layer but it still stinks. Then you try to put it down, throw it away, cover it up but the stench is still on your hands. And it’s hard to wash away.
People will say that on some level we are all prejudiced. That may be true to the extent that our personal experiences, frame of reference, environment and associations inevitably play on the way we think and what we believe. You are largely a product of your environment. It’s natural.
The truth is – in isolation, prejudice is a rather innocuous element of life; like nitrogen when it sits alone. Behaviors that precipitate antagonizing actions, discrimination, bigotry and hatred reflect what happens when you add glycerin to that nitrogen. You create an explosive predicament.
Case in point, when the predominantly African American student body, faculty and staff of Gary Roosevelt High School ventured south into West Lafayette for the high school semi-state basketball tournaments during the 60s and 70s, the other three of four teams competing were inevitably majority – if not completely – white.
Whenever Roosevelt played one of those schools in the morning game, they would return for the championship that evening. For the earlier sessions, cheering was divided between the four schools – each study body vying to outdo the other in enthusiasm and volume. It was quintessential Hoosier Hysteria.
If Roosevelt returned during the evening, no matter which of those teams was playing against them, the crowd was invariably three quarters against the Velt.
Nobody cheered for the Black team to win except those who rode with the school and those who drove the slightly one hour trek on Interstate 65. Clearly, white folk banded together to support whichever team was trying to eliminate the Panthers.
That wasn’t the worst part because we know that birds of a feather flock together. But when the white referees would blatantly cheat Black high school boys trying to compete in the tourney, to give the advantage to white opponents – that was taking it far too far. Such misconduct was common and only rarely could it be overcome.
Again. Your prejudice isn’t what deprives you of civility because no one can see your thoughts until you act them out.
You may not like a person because they are different. You may even fear that individual or withdraw the element of trust because of the most superficial stimuli – what that person looks like. Even if rooted in ignorance that is your prerogative. What you don’t have the right to do is injure, malign or deprive that individual based on your thinking.
Thoughts are uncontrollable but actions are another matter altogether. Even if your inner rage drives you to hatred, it still gives you no right to hurt me or put someone at a disadvantage because of your preconceived notions.
America has experienced a dramatic spike in hate crime and formations of Aryan or white nationalists organizations. We know that there is tacit approval from the leadership of our nation that emboldens those who behave badly – especially when those in power boast that many of them are good people and some of those who oppose them are evil.
Sadly, toxic behavior spreads like the plague that it is. Unfortunately, many children mimic bad behaviors and assume roles as this nationwide saga of hatred and intolerance unfolds.
Few living in the U.S. have ever seen it quite like this. One man recently said we’ve gone back to the 50s. His partner corrected him saying, “No, this is more like Reconstruction.” Change best comes from the top. But this may require a grassroots up strategy to make America civil again. Finally, an anniversary card to Agent Orange:
Happy Anniversary, Donald!
In just one year, you dropped the U.S. from first to third in world esteem; naturalized the least civil behaviors this country has ever known; brazenly challenged the very foundation of our democracy; promoted a society where character no longer counts; averaged five or more LIES a day to the American public; alienated allies while embracing historic adversaries, and provided the leadership that completely SHUT DOWN the federal government.
No wonder you have the worst first-year approval rating in history. You claim your popularity among African Americans in the polls has doubled since you took office. Technically, that’s probably true since zero times two is still zero.
Yeah, it has been one unusual year. You promised to drain the swamp and you did. But then you refilled it with even murkier, more toxic waters along with the most repugnant, creepy, crawling creatures and predators you could unearth.
Every day of that first year, you were the proof that no matter how bad things became – it could always get worse. But Americans took your best shot and they are still standing strong, thriving, determined.
The next chapter is going to be a different story.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].