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The kids are watching

I don’t understand discrimination, racism or prejudice. I know what the words mean, it’s just that I can’t wrap my head around the people who harbor such views.

As human beings we all have our biases, we generally are uncomfortable with things that are different or unknown to us.   It is tragic that people are subjected to verbal threats,  taunts and physical harm. Where does hate for another person come from? We certainly are not born with hate in our hearts and minds, so it must come from the environment. Children copy what they see either at home or in public. If a child sees that a negative behavior has no consequences the only conclusion for that child is that it is alright to call someone by a slur or threaten harm.

These days some misguided people are letting law enforcement do their discriminating. It is beyond the pale to think that a white person would call 9-1-1 to report a black person doing what people do all the time: barbecuing in a park, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, taking a nap in a public library or even selling water in front of their home.

It is troubling when people who call the police in such situations don’t express remorse or say they were wrong for calling law enforcement.Some jurisdictions have laws against frivously calling a 9-1-1 service. What could be more frivolous that calling the police on a little girl selling water in from of her own home to fund a trip to Disneyland?

Pundits write that people are worried that their ‘way of life’ is ebbing away as minority populations grow in this country. Remember that “I want my country back” was a rallying cry during the 2016 presidential campaign. That sentiment  hurts my sensibilities.

America used to proudly boast that the United States was a great melting pot of people from all corners of the globe. This country has always had a tough stance against all immigrants. The Irish were not welcomed with open arms, nor the Italians. Asians, especially Chinese, were dealt a particularly harsh hand in the 19th century, even excluded by Congress and the courts.

It is not much different today for people arriving from our neighbors to the south or from the Middle East or Africa. Do bad people get into the United States? Sure, as it has always been. That doesn’t justify hating a whole people due to the actions of a small percentage.

Diversity and inclusion is good for anything—countries, companies, communities.  I spent this past weekend in Seattle. It was Pride Weekend and tens of thousands of people of different colors, genders, sexual orientations and ages mixed effortlessly on the streets of the city, including the four-hour pride parade downtown.

No city, regardless of how big or small, is immune from acts of racism and discrimination.So it was wonderful to spend a weekend in the big city where a rainbow of people mix together, all sharing a message of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. It is harder to be frightened or wary of someone who is different if you know them. There was a shared energy on the tightly packed sidewalks during the parade because they all shared a message—everyone is important.

People who are different from us are not dangerous, they are not out to harm us; we all want the same thing: to live in peace for ourselves and our families. Anyone will reciprocate in kind when treated with respect and fairness.

My way of life is not threatened because a Sikh wears a turban or a Saudi-born woman wears a burqa. I have learned from living in other areas that diversity is important, my life is richer because I have known and befriended those different than myself. How? I have gained respect for traditions and customs other than my own. I have learned that things I take for granted are not always good for others.

Social change begins with each of us. We can lessen discrimination, racism and sexism in our society by remembering that our kids mirror what we do.  Accept others with respect and tolerance and our future generations will too.

(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)