Americans continue to be on edge in the age of President Trump. Discrimination, bias and bigotry appear to be the rule, not the exception. This defies the American way of life, not to mention logic and common sense.
In the wake of Charlottesville last August and “Unite the Right 2” this past weekend, many people of goodwill, good character and good faith are asking critically important questions:
- What’s the most effective response to the radical right-wing surge of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by Trump?
- Is violence or civil disobedience the correct course when confronted with blatant hate speech by those whose sole aim is to spread chaos?
To answer, let me start with a personal story…
Although it occurred about 30 years ago, I still painfully remember my first encounter with anti-Semitism.
As a teenager, I was working one summer on the loading dock of a hardware store carrying inventory off 18-wheeler trucks. A white non-Jewish coworker in his early 20s had just experienced a bad breakup. His girlfriend had left him in a deep state of remorse.
He was an angry and bitter bully who was ready to lash out. I quickly became his verbal punching bag via religious harassment based on my Jewish faith.
He would say things to me like: “Hitler should of taken care of you people” and “Shut up or I’ll send you to the gas chambers.”
This was quite shocking to a young person growing up in the predominantly Jewish small town of Roslyn, Long Island (NY). But it goes to show that racism and anti-Semitism have no geographic or moral boundaries.
I was certainly not one to “wear religion on my sleeve,” as the saying goes. But my Jewish last name was all that mattered to the bullying bigot in his bouts of rage.
David vs. Goliath
My family belonged to a synagogue which practiced reform Judaism. This is a form of Jewish worship and rituals aimed at adapting to societal modernism, as compared to Orthodox or Conservative Jewish sects.
Today, I’m secular and spiritual. My wife is Greek Orthodox.
Even though my family belonged to the least observant sect of Judaism, those unprovoked anti-Semitic attacks so many summers ago still sting today . The memories are particularly painful during these troublesome times of racial division and upheaval promoted by President Trump’s tumultuous tenure as divider-in-chief.
Sometimes I wonder whether I should have physically fought that bullying anti-Semite when I was still a kid.
However, it would have been a literal David versus Goliath battle. That’s because the harasser was a muscular weight lifter and I was a skinny teen.
hindsight, perhaps I should have hit the bigoted bully over the head
with a crowbar or a large piece of lumber when he wasn’t looking. Maybe that would have knocked so sense into him.
- Should I have resorted to violence in order to right such a blatant wrong based on frivolous discriminatory thinking?
Regardless, I refrained from violence while still standing my ground. I ignored the bully but informed his supervisor. The hostile work environment soon ended.
I’m reminded of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks at the
Democratic National Convention in 2016. She stated of the opposition, “When they go low,
we go high.”
Lessons of MLK
As race relations remain in freefall under President Trump, today’s new generation of leadership should remember the historic lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK). But some ask whether MLK is still relevant today?
MLK’s peaceful approach of civil disobedience is what we need now because hate and violence only beget hate and violence. Civil rights activist groups can effectuate positive societal change and social justice through peaceful means rather than violence in the face of provocation.
Remember that age-old saying: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.“
This logic purports that it’s never right to wrong another person, even if that individual intentionally wronged you first. The opposing argument, which is justifiable to some, is “an eye for an eye” and “fight fire with fire.”
The problem with the latter approach is that it only plays into the hands of the hateful perpetrators. It only perpetuates a downward spiral into an abyss of acrimony and recrimination.
today’s young civil rights activists should consider leveraging
peaceful means of protest via the Constitutional guarantees of freedom
of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the
MLK referred to non-violence as, “A sword that heals.” He said,
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding
and ennobles the man who wields it.”
The aforementioned personal story and wise words by Michelle Obama and MLK are instructive as racism, hate, bias and bigotry continue to rear their ugly head.
Prior to President Trump, America witnessed some signs of real racial progress, albeit fleeting. The most significant signs were the historic election and reelection of America’s first black president.
But the civil rights struggle is far from over with Trump in the White House.
This is clearly evidenced by the reemergence of white supremacists, KKK and neo-Nazi hate groups fueled by the racist rants of Trump and his callous cohorts. These demons of discourse only succeed by sowing more discord among Americans. They thrive on fostering division and tribalism, both in word and deed.
There fact remains that there’s
still too much discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability and other
factors, from the workplace to nearly every place in the USA.
Thus, the question arises:
- What strategies should a new generation of leaders leverage to create the kind of society in which all people are judged on “the content of their character” and not by “the color of their skin,” or other discriminatory factors, as Dr. King preached half a century ago?
Millennials and Generation Z should recall civil rights history and recognize that
non-violence, rather than knee-jerk reaction, was the core foundation of Dr. King’s legacy of
- Are the answers to racial, ethnic and religious divisions too elusive to solve in today’s increasingly diverse society, characterized by more multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Americans?
Perhaps so. But hopefully not.
As Dr. King so eloquently stated:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”–MLK
Today’s new generation of leaders should heed these words of wisdom during these troubling times.
David is former veteran media spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, DC. Prior to that, he worked in the White House as a political appointee for the Administration of President Bill Clinton. You can also find David on LinkedIn and Twitter.