Why does “other” intimidate us? We’ve built a deplorable foundation of hate on that fear. For generations, Americans have been taught that the other ethnicity, religion, or political party is bad. “They” cannot be trusted. In fact, we have been led to believe that “other” is evil. When in fact it is our hate and disdain that is wicked.
We certainly aren’t the first. Centuries of conquerors inspired followers and seditionists on the idea that “we are right” and “they are wrong”. Taking, or rather stealing, what the “other” has because they don’t do it the way we would, is the epitome of injustice. At what point do we become the America on which our reputation is built?
This “other mentality” concept came to me for a session in my Let’s Get Real About Racism series. I compared it to our enthusiasm for sports. Because it is not just socially acceptable but expected for us to loathe our rivals, our culture learns early on to “destroy our enemies". It becomes normal to join together in annihilating the other team. This thought process seeps into other aspects of our lives and manifests as prejudice against anyone we don’t see as “the same”.
Even in the early days of Colonial America, almost everybody hated everybody, except for the Quakers. People clung to a hierarchy in an effort to find their place and create an air of aristocracy where none existed. Italians hated the Irish. The Irish loathed African Americans. And everybody hated the Jew. You stuck with your own kind and there were few exceptions. The ultimate irony was many who came over from Europe were either criminals or poverty ridden, trying to create something new. Yet, these antiquated ideas of hierarchy only continued the very environment from which they had fled.
It seemed wealth was for Whites, most particularly Protestant. The poor were considered lazy, ignorant sloths, unworthy of a decent quality of life, much less success. What the masses seem to forget still is that they are poor or uneducated because systems have been set up to ensure it. Those who managed to become land owners only continued the feudalism system from which they escaped. These societal norms live on today in our banking and justice systems, and much more.
It seems odd that nobody thought that they could actually be stronger united than divided. The phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" has been traced back to a Greek story teller who lived during 6th Century B.C. The phrase has been repeated by philosophers ever since. Yet, it seems to have gone unapplied throughout time. Why is so simple a solution, unfathomable to so many. Those with a weaker mindset seem to require someone to look down on to hold any form of self confidence whatsoever. Far too many of us still buy into “it’s a man’s world”. Worse still, are those that believe our BIPOC community is less intelligent, educated, or capable. All of these mindsets combined are playing a part in the erosion of our country.
Additionally, there are plenty of folks who work multiple, laborious jobs, yet can barely make ends meet. The grossest joke of all has been the lower working class being convinced to get an education to better their lives. This afforded them predatory lending, including government fueled Fannie Mae. So now those who tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps are more in debt than if they had bought a new home. Yet, they can’t afford a home. Why? Because in the 21st Century we’ve already had two major economic crisis in America. And we are less than a quarter of the way through.
At what point did governing become a formula of poverty for the masses and wealth for a few elite whites? Some would argue it has always been that way, at least for some ethnicities, no matter what the country. But America is supposed to be the melting pot of the world. Our reputation has reached all corners of the globe which is why many immigrants still choose here over any other place for safe haven. Yet, we aren’t the refuge so many believe us to be. Law and order has run amuck. The lines of right and wrong are grossly blurred, if they weren’t already. Governing is no longer by the people, for the people. Instead, the name of the game is money and power. Many would argue that it has always been that way.
So how do we reel it in? Is it even possible? Yes. The good news is, it is possible. But it won’t happen with the status quo. It will require the people we elected to public office taking more responsibility than they may be accustomed to or comfortable with. Furthermore, it will require a fresh take on politics and what it means to serve in office.
The one sentiment that should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind is that there is no such thing as “other”. As human beings, we must acknowledge that we have far more in common with one another than we are different. The realization that we are in fact a melting pot of various cultures, intellects, and belief systems is what makes America great. Respecting those differences and allowing individuals to thrive in a diverse environment is what makes us Americans.