Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not Tolerating Intolerance Anymore

I witnessed a lot of intolerance (or at best, severe racial/cultural misunderstanding) in the last week in Norristown. It was as if, as soon as the weather got cold, or the election was over, everyone took it as a cue to stop respecting each other.

I saw one family be extremely rude to a group of Latino children, most of whom weren't older than 7.
I heard someone say that African-American people didn't want anyone not black showing up at "their" events, so why should "we" go out of our way to invite them to "ours." I heard one man say, in a loud, uncontrolled, angry voice, that "the Mexicans" were the reason no outsiders would come to town. I saw several posts by one Norristown man who expressed what amounted to the inferiority of everyone besides him. In the last month, I've heard comments about the evilness of gays, about what women can't or shouldn't do, and about how Christians are better than everyone else.

All these people seem to believe that anyone NOT like themselves has no right to live in town. Maybe no right to live at all.

All my life I've politely put up with opinions like this, because frankly, as in this past week, I sometimes feel so surrounded by such opinions that it seems more prudent to keep quiet. But now, the more that good people are getting together to do great things in this town, the more I'm sick of those who would rather blame anyone unlike themselves for our problems than actually help fix them. It's easier to say "It's their fault," than "What can I do to help?"

On Saturday, a Jewish friend of mine posted this on Facebook: "5 years ago Kristallnach happened. Let's not let hate win ever again." Kristallnacht was "the night of broken glass"--November 9, 1938--when gangs of Nazis destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, burned 900 synagogues, and murdered 90 people. By the end of the following day, they'd rounded up 30,000 Jewish men for deportation.

Also on Saturday, one of my black Norristown friends posted a poignant anti-racism video. Yesterday morning, another friend shared this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding."

They reminded me that we've got many, many people in this borough who hate intolerance as much as I do. I believe the majority of Norristonians just want to live and let live. As long as people next door are good neighbors, their race, religion, gender--all the things that define our differences--don't matter. Quite a few of us love our town's diversity and wouldn't have it any other way. That's a part of what what makes Norristown unique. Diversity is also healthy--no one group can provide everything a community needs to grow. Without diversity, you get a kind of mental and emotional inbreeding.

The problem is, we're ALL pretty polite about our tolerance, which I suppose, goes with the territory--we even tolerate intolerance. But Norristown's never going to come together for the good of the community if we let the haters divide us.

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