Thursday, October 30, 2008

Racism and Violence in the Election Process

Like wine, this election process seems to bring out the hidden, nasty truth lurking just below the surface in some people. The threats against Barack Obama at some Republican rallies have been widely reported. The couple that hung an effigy of Sarah Palin as a Halloween decoration didn't think it was anything but funny.

This week, a man I have known for more than forty years forwarded a racist political picture and caption from some woman who thought it was just too funny not to share. I was shocked, embarrassed, angry, and appalled that anyone who knows me would think that I would find it remotely humorous. This inappropriate e-mail came from an educated, upper middle class white man living in a fairly liberal part of the country. It reminded me of the type of racist jokes my father used to tell. They were the sorts that were shared discretely between friends.

My father was born in 1901 in a rural part of the Northeast. Like Joe the plumber, my father was an independent plumbing and heating contractor, though he never made the kind of money that Joe does. My father worked hard to provide a lower middle class living for us--worked hard enough that he literally died on the job. I don't think he realized the impact of those jokes. I don't think he knew any black people personally. The last argument we had was over my right to marry a black woman. It was a theoretical argument because I didn't know any black people either. I was sixteen at the time.

I'm over sixty now. I do know people of every race, major religion, and economic strata. I also know the insidiousness of racist jokes told behind closed doors, or sent over the Internet.

Stop it, America. We're better than that. We don't need ethnic jokes of any variety. We don't need to threaten violence in order to promote our candidates. We can disagree without being repugnant. We cannot make a better America by denigrating each other.

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