From kindergarten to senior year, I attended a school that charged a fortune in tuition to the wealthiest students specifically so that it could offer scholarships—either partial or full—to the rest. It was vital to them that we did not grow up insulated by socio-economic position, either for better or worse. I did not know that at the time, of course. All I knew in third grade was that we could play some games at one friend’s house that there was no room for at another. Because the school was in New York, we also had quite a diverse student body…though we were all female.
At eighteen, I moved to the Midwest and got my first taste of racism. It came as a shock, and it took me a long time for me to understand where it came from, but after several years (yes, I am slow) I began to understand that it was always, always rooted in fear. Many times, hate is taught, passed down generation to generation, long after the fear that originally generated it is gone.
I don’t personally think there’s anything you can do to combat hate in a 50-year-old who’s spent their whole life soaking it in, but you can alleviate the fear in a 10-year-old, a 15-year-old. You can open minds and hearts in younger people. That’s not a hopeful statement right now because we’re drowning in hate in this country and we have hateful, fearful people who will be appointing judges to the Supreme Court, who are then likely to make their decisions out of that same brew of hate and fear. The open-minded children won’t be able to make changes in any of the decisions those people make for decades.
The thing is, this whole country is afraid. The groups who are hated simply because of the way they were born fear for their lives. The people with crappy jobs (or no jobs) fear they won’t be able to put food on the table or a roof over their heads, which means that they, also, fear for their lives. The well-off fear losing their wealth; being unable to pay, for example, for a Harvard education for their children. That may seem trivial to some of us, but it’s a very real fear for people who have brought their children up for, say, sixteen years believing that they will be able to go if they get in.
Still, the first two groups obviously have more vital fears. And the fears of the first group are, in large part, rooted in the fears of the second. That is, if the fears of the second group did not breed hatred for those who look different, who sound different, who love or worship differently, the second group wouldn’t be afraid.
Fear requires a target. Everyone wants to be able to alleviate their fears, and the easiest way to do that is by blaming someone else for the problem. People who don’t have jobs, who are afraid of losing their jobs, are afraid of losing their entire way of life, need someone to blame. And it’s easier to blame the scapegoat when it has a face, one you can easily pick from a crowd.
In fact, despite much of the rhetoric of this election period, the “other” jobless Americans face isn’t China or India or Mexico—at least it is not only those countries, and it is certainly not the Americans who have immigrated from those places. The “other” we face as we look to the future is not even human. We created it. We automated, driving workers off the assembly line. We created machines that do what humans do for a fraction of the cost and employed them, rather than people, on farms and in factories. Hell, they even work for collection agencies and campaigns, calling us 9000 times a day.
But it is not easy to blame the march of time. It is not easy to blame progress or overpopulation or technology. That’s not how we’re made.
So as I see it (I know, it took me forever to get here), while we protect PoC, LGBT+, women, and non-Christians of all stripes today, we have to simultaneously protect future generations of those same endangered people. And the only way to do that, as I see it, is to change our entire educational system so that students are prepared for actual life. Life as it is today, not as it was five, ten, twenty, fifty years ago. To prepare them to face the future without the same fears that are smothering their parents and grandparents. To teach them to desire the future. I have ideas on what would improve our system, but I see no way to get those ideas put into place.
Make no mistake, I am not calm. I am absolutely furious that so many people let their fear and hatred control them. But I am a practical person and the way I see it, those people will continue to behave in exactly the same manner unless something is done. Yes, some people get off on hatred and love violence for the sake of violence, but we can quell those if we can bring the rest to reason.
As I said, I don’t know how to implement the sweeping changes our educational system needs. Still, individual teachers are out there trying to teach their students useful things, and the children who were sixteen and seventeen for this election will be eighteen at midterms. I encourage you to find teachers with exciting, mind-opening projects, and help them. If you have money, you can donate to classrooms through DonorsChoose.org. If you don’t have money, do some research on children’s books or YA books that teach tolerance and then offer at your local library to lead discussions on them. If you’re technically or technologically minded, offer your time to teach those skills to young (and older) people.
Those of us who want to stamp out hate, or at least stamp out as much of it as we can, have a big job ahead of us. It’s easy to say that love trumps hate, easy to wear a safety pin and think that’s enough, but that’s how we got here. (I’m not telling you not to wear the pin, just to do more.) Most of us don’t like confrontation, but we have to be willing to suck up our own discomfort and do the right thing.
The progressive agenda will always require more effort because it requires complex policies and long term planning rather than “turn this off, say no to that, and don’t do the other.” But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. So I’ll leave you with some people working toward it every day:
Anything you do for these organizations will help both present and future generations.
Now, go forth and be fabulous. Read and write and create art that celebrates the diversity of the world in all its glory.