This is a somber day for me as I am saddened and sickened by the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the six lives lost — including a 9-year-old girl born on 9/11 — and several others wounded. This is a horrible tragedy.
I have been thinking a great deal about last couple of years since Barack Obama ran for office and was elected president. Our civic discourse has become full of hate, ignorance and, quite frankly, very unproductive language.
I was appalled at the comments posted on the Tribune website in response to the cotton ball event at the Black Culture Center and the news that the Board of Curators needs to be more diverse. These types of activities were not limited to Columbia — all over the U.S., the FBI and other groups who follow hate crimes reported a dangerous increase in such events.
I really panicked when people started packing heat at political rallies. That disturbed me greatly. At times, I felt as if the KKK was alive and well and I have prayed non-stop for President Obama, who has received many threats against his life. The health-care debate and the claims that its passage would kill old people and the constant haranguing that the president is not a citizen of the U.S. sickened me.
I worried when Sarah Palin's "bulls-eye" piece hit the news— and was fearful that someone not sound in mind might follow those marching orders to "target" politicians and others who disagreed with them.
Whether or not Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting is related to these vitriolic events over the past two years or not — we must change course.
I am concerned about the direction our country and communities are taking by blaming people who have the least; giving instead to those who have in abundance. Continuing to carry bias and stereotypes rooted in hate and ignorance into the 21st century is a recipe for disaster. It was something else to read recently that MU did not integrate its athletic department until 1958 and refused to compete with schools that had African-American players.
There is a culture that is alive and well in this country that continues to have difficulty accepting, dealing with and working with people of color, immigrants, the poor and those without the means to get access to health care and education. I suggest the DiversityWeb website and the newsletter Diversity & Democracy as a place for those who are concerned about our future. Our nation has some very serious and complex problems to address. All of us have a role in shaping the future of our communities.
As a nation of people, we need to learn to harness the human capital of the country's diverse residents to build the capacity to solve the challenges of our nation and world.
As people, we need to start educating ourselves about policy and issues with the same diligence as we do learning a new software application or video game.
Our future depends on our ability to be flexible, open and capable of having difficult dialogues with civility. We can not afford to leave any child or person behind no matter who or what they are. We all matter, even if we have a difference of opinion, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and financial status.
As Rep. Giffords is clinging to life, we should pray for her recovery, for the families who lost a loved one and for our leadership to pull together, work together and act like adults.
Politicians, members of our media and the community should look inward and consider that the words they speak can have consequences.
If you feel hate toward someone, a particular group, politician or opinion, etc., I urge you to look inward and ask, where do those feelings come from and why?
The challenge for 2011 and beyond is to seek partnership and collaboration in every part of our lives. To be effective we have to be willing to listen, learn and be honest with ourselves and seek honest and truthful answers — not all of which can be found in our 24-hour cable news cycle.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp is a Columbia resident and community activist.