What does the name of Washington, DC’s football team and the 30-mile ridge along the Allegheny Mountains stretching from western Maryland into Pennsylvania have in common? The names are considered by some to be offensive. For decades, Native Americans, with respect to “Redskins”, and African-Americans, with respect to “Negro” Mountain, have sought to rid the region of these lingering relics of a bygone era. Recognizing that each group’s separate efforts have resulted in little to no success, Cortland Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post, called for African-Americans and Native Americans to pool their resources to create a stronger voice, one more likely to be heeded. Http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-29/local/36612601_1_offensive-names-washington-redskins-mount-davis.
On another front, Julian Bond and others are trying to forge “a national constituency for civil rights” that includes all Americans standing together to level the playing field for all Americans in our ongoing momentous struggle against inequality and injustice. After all, as Mr. Bond says, “[lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights are civil rights” worthy of inclusion in our “historic struggle for civil rights” and justice. A critical mass having the power to cut short a politician’s career or detrimentally affect the finances of a reluctant team owner has a better chance of educating the more callous among us and effecting change.
To speak in one voice, however, requires identifying with another’s feelings. Because intolerance is an equal opportunity victimizer, targeting a wide range of characteristics, including race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, age and disability, almost all of us have had the “slings and arrows” of intolerance leveled directly at us. One would think empathy would come easy. Yet, it is still in short supply where intolerance is concerned.
We feign a failure to notice. We stand apart as if we are safe while the “other” is victimized – a “better him than me” mentality. We defend our prejudices by blaming the “other’s” thin-skin. We may even participate in offensive rituals to mask our own fear of being targeted or to pump ourselves up into believing that we are better than “them”. Even if we can say with all certainty that we are not bigots, racists or homophobes, who among us can say we have not laughed at an ethnic joke or said something stereotypically stupid?
Yet, we seethe when vitriol is leveled against us, and are blithely unaware when vitriol spews from us. Now is the time to walk a mile in their moccasins. Now is the time to feel someone else’s pain. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on this the 50th anniversary of his historic March on Washington – “No one is free [of injustice and intolerance] until everyone is free [of injustice and tolerance]”.