As this Black History Month approached, I couldn't help but think of the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. I was thinking of how far we had all come and how far we still have to go.
It didn't take long after the election of a biracial president that cracks in our surface began to appear. Most Americans were ready for this event, and, whether they agreed with his politics or his political party, they seemed content that we had crossed the great divide.
But of course there are others who will never accept this turn of events. The world is full of people like that. There are people who never recover from child abuse, there are women who never recover from sexual abuse, and there are some who will never recover from a childhood spent absorbed in racism.
After some 50 years of desegregated schools, one would think that everyone had said every mean, vicious thing they could say about another person's skin color or cultural distinction. And at the very least it's hard to believe that people are still polluting the airwaves with that particular brand of garbage.
Some individuals think of hate speech as free speech. They believe that the founders wasted their time setting down the Bill of Rights just so generations of people could say nasty stuff about each other.
These hatemongers think of it as their right to say whatever they want about others. What effect this has on society does not seem to be a consideration. The fact that this speech is hurtful and harmful is not enough to keep people from using it.
Probably, if anybody went to court to try to put a stop to hate speech, they would have the fight of their life. They would undoubtedly be accused of trying to interfere with freedom of speech. For some reason, we can devise rules and regulations to govern our other rights, but we seem to see freedom of hate speech as sacred.
I think this is but one of the instances where we can understand the difficulty of trying to maintain a democracy with a failed education system. Many people who truly ought to know better seem to believe that people learn the difference between good and bad behavior through some weird process of osmosis. They behave as if children are born knowing right from wrong. Some parents are especially guilty of this. They think that children learn to behave properly by just living in the house with other people.
There is a lot of attention paid these days to the horrible bullying some students are subjected to in their schoolrooms. Not much attention is given to adult bullying. But some people are harassed on their jobs every day, by name-calling and improper comments about gender and race. Some people feel forced to put up with it because the job situation is so critical — they feel if they complain they may lose their jobs.
Some radio and television commentators consistently use the airwaves for hate speech. Their employers make no effort to put guidelines in place for the use of their stations. It is difficult to say how much this hateful speech contributes to the violence in our society. And certainly if children are permitted to hear these commentators, there would be no way to convince them that this is not acceptable behavior.
Unfortunately, the conduct of these spreaders of hate proves that even when behavior is regulated, some individuals will find a way to spread racism and intolerance. Not that they confine their nasty comments just to other Americans, they also like to entice terrorists by trying to humiliate people from other countries.
I realize that many Americans don't mind having to send out the men and women of our volunteer army to fight wars for them after they have antagonized members of other cultures. They feel confident that as long as they fly their flags higher and more often than the rest of us everyone will see them as patriots.
If we fail to fix our broken education system, I hate to think of how many future generations we are dumping into the gutter. Now that we have learned that in some parts of the country people are undertaking the effort to sanitize our history it may already be too late.
Time will tell.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.