Stamp Out Bigotry
The United States has been a nation of and for refugees and for economic migrants for the entirety of its existence and for almost two centuries before it became an independent country.
My own ancestors arrived in colonial Philadelphia as economic migrants in the early 1700s. A century later some of them became religious refugees within the United States, chased further and further westward and ultimately out of the United States.
Their descendants, along with the descendants of economic migrants from Spain and Central America, some of whom arrived at least as early as 1690, became American citizens as a result of the Mexican War. Tens of thousands of my fellow Americans share a history very similar to that of my family.
Hundreds of thousands of my fellow West Virginians’ ancestors came here as economic migrants from southern and eastern Europe seeking a better life by working in the mines and mills.
My ancestors were among the earliest settlers in this area, fought for our freedom from Great Britain, and fought Indians for more land. They fought for this nation and its values in all its wars. Because of that, most of their children were raised to believe that America was a great nation, open to all who sought to join us in the project of maintaining and extending our core values such as equality, justice, democracy, and progress.
But there was one aunt and uncle who became involved in the Ku Klux Klan during its heyday in Ohio in the 1920s. Their children, now in their 80s, have struggled with racist attitudes they learned from their parents.
We need to decide what kind of society we want our children to have because we are on the brink of becoming something very different. Children learn values and norms primarily from their parents, neighbors, and groups their families belong to. Most Americans develop at least some affinity for the best values of American culture. Unfortunately, some learn an entirely different set of values that includes racism and intolerance that manifest in a belief that people with values and customs from a different racial, ethnic, and/or religious heritage are to be feared or rejected.
Wheeling celebrates is multi-ethnic heritage every summer with an array of ethnic festivals that most of us enjoy. All of them derive from European and Middle Eastern ethnicity, however. Little attention is paid to the cultures of others.
Unfortunately, West Virginia also has a history of segregation, overt racism, and racial violence. We have some paramilitary “militias” that have been identified as “hate groups,” too. Some West Virginia children are learning the kinds of attitudes and values transmitted by parents involved in these groups.
The recent mass murders of minorities in Dayton and El Paso, along with similar incidents in recent years, remind us that we are all at risk to some extent from people who believe that they are somehow cleansing our society of people they do not believe should be here.
Do we want more of this kind of attitudes and behavior? If we do not, we need to understand how things have changed.
In earlier times, people had to have close physical proximity to people who held intolerant attitudes in order to spread them. That tended to hold intolerance in check. Today, the internet has become a powerful and pervasive source of spreading the kinds of values and attitudes we need to reject. One of the things that is happening is that a lot of lonely, searching youth are finding their way to radical web sites and becoming radicalized by adults who offer them some sense of purpose and belonging. At the very least, parents need to become more computer-savvy themselves and more willing and able to monitor their children’s use of their computers.
Family, educators, and neighbors need to be concerned about a teen or young adult who seems to be socially isolated; who spends a lot of time on the computer alone or with a couple of friends with whom he spends a lot of time playing violent video-games; who begins to get involved with drugs or to emulate the appearance of paramilitary or “skinhead” groups; who acquires posters and flags of different groups; or who begins to acquire inappropriate weapons. These are all signs a vulnerable youth might be being radicalized by some hate group.
Such behavior should not be dismissed as simply “a phase.”
We need to recognize that it is our responsibility to say something when we begin to see things such as the above. Unfortunately, what government can do will be limited even if our legislators finally decide to try to take some action to thwart domestic terrorism. We also need to realize that we cannot assume that the kinds of people likely to become domestic terrorists or mass murderers may be mentally ill or addicted to drugs. Mental illness and addiction exist in all societies, but it is only in ours that we have the kinds and volume of mass murders that are experiencing. Do we want more?