If we were having coffee I’d want to tell you that I knew something bad was going to happen in Charlottesville this past weekend.
And I’m not referring to the usual vandalism and looting that often go along with protests and demonstrations.
The Friday night images of the “Unite the Right” demonstrators wielding torches evoked a distant memory. As they marched across the darkened UVA campus I was reminded of a scene from the 1931 movie Frankenstein.
The townspeople in that story were on a mission to destroy a creature that they feared.
He had a kind and gentle nature but was “different” in appearance and behavior.
Based on these differences they made incorrect assumptions and treated him with hatred. Intimidated by his extremely large size and peculiar looks they labeled him a monster.
Eventually, he too became violent due to the hostility and maltreatment they had shown him.
Without ever attempting to communicate and understand Frankenstein, they rejected him in the most contemptible way.
I think this is a part of prejudicial bigotry. It’s a fear of people and things that are unfamiliar or different. Without an earnest effort to discover why this fear exists there won’t be a conversation. And without a conversation, there won’t be a positive change.
Some of us grew up in homes that embraced diversity in all its forms. Everything from race and religion to clothing and food. We were taught tolerance and a healthy respect for other people and their cultures.
It was okay to be different. After all, the Declaration of Independence guarantees ALL human beings certain inalienable rights.
This doesn’t mean we have to agree with everyone else’s choice regarding lifestyle and belief system. As long as their rights don’t supersede yours and everyone enjoys equality; live and let live.
When we encountered other people or ideas that were different it evoked curiosity, not fear or suspicion. We learned the “do unto others” adage and applied it in everyday life.
Sadly, some of us were taught to fear anything that was contrary to our norms.
Those differences were immediately suspect and we were encouraged in our paranoia and sense of superiority.
Rather than learn about and understand other races and religions, we turned a wary eye. Acceptance of individuals outside our belief system would weaken our exclusive groups and mixed marriages would dilute our lineage, robbing us of our true identity.
But, what is our true identity?
Is it how we dress and talk? Is it defined by our facial features?
No, I believe it’s internal. Not determined by physical attributes, but rather by the content of one’s character as Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated. Our minds and hearts make up the intrinsic part of our identities.
The external parts of our identity are things like our legal name, address, credit score, and the entire paper trail we’ve established since our birth certificates were issued. It’s our material goods and assets. It’s the shape of our noses and our ability to tan or burn without sunscreen.
A person can suffer a terrible accident resulting in extensive disfigurement. Various types of cosmetic surgery can drastically change one’s appearance. Modifications to any part of our physical bodies can alter one’s looks and change the outward presentation.
But, it can’t change who we really are: our ideologies, beliefs, personalities, emotional intelligence, etc.
I would urge anyone who judges others based on skin color, religion, or life philosophy to make a concerted effort to get to know the person.
Let go of the fear associated with the unfamiliar. Educate yourself regarding other cultures, religions, and human beings. Learn and become familiar.
You might discover that the commonalities outnumber the differences. And the differences can actually enrich your life in ways you never dreamed possible.