Is standing "for" something harder than standing "against" it? Maybe it's just the idea of taking a stand in the first place - most people would rather not. Dare I say it takes courage? Individuals struggle to belong, connect and share; it's hard to be either for or against - especially if you suspect you might be standing there alone.
I am "for" Fort Dodge: years ago this community became my home. I am proud of the appearance of our city driving into town; what an improvement from 30 years ago! I am proud of maturing cultural and business growth and opportunities for volunteerism and self-improvement. While people do come to Fort Dodge to work, I wish there were more jobs; but I feel the employment picture is less dismal today than it was just months ago. I think most every family can find a place in Fort Dodge where their spiritual needs can be met. There are things to do and causes that deserve commitment. Over all, there's a lot to be "for" in Fort Dodge.
What I am "against" in Fort Dodge is not unique to Fort Dodge, but it is abhorrent. Having just recently learned that more than 1,000 new hate groups have emerged across America in the last eight years, I guess I'm not really surprised that immigration and a down economy have fueled a level of partisanship, polarization, hostility and isolationism that can be felt even in Fort Dodge. On the most primary level, racism is about skin color and racial background, but the tenets of hate include all discrimination, written or verbal threats and insults as well as property damage and graffiti. Its fingers reach across all segments of the community to touch people's lives with injustice in employment, education, healthcare, housing and human services; ironically, in a nation of immigrants, we rail against those who would risk life and limb for the hope life in America represents.
But the saddest aspect of racism is that it is learned; it isn't something that is hard-wired into the human conscience. Most living things have to learn they are different from others. Puppies and kittens are often fast friends if their mothers are tolerant, and we've all seen examples where animals will adopt orphans of another species and seemingly have no knowledge the baby they are nurturing is not their own. Baby carnivores would starve to death were they not taught to kill; their initial instinct is to play with the other creatures they discover during their first adventures away from the den. Our own human babies appear to be unaware of individual differences between themselves and others well past their second or third birthdays and perhaps even longer when raised in households where bigotry is forbidden. Racism cannot flourish when it is despised by adults; tolerance emerges when people react to the diversity around them as a gift to be cherished; the friendships which grow from that melting pot of cultures, traditions, beliefs and values enrich all our lives and enhance our ability to share love, compassion, empathy and trust.
I cannot singularly change the world, but I have changed my world. I find no room for hate and bigotry; God put me here to tend my own soul and write my own biography and impart what has been wonderful about my life to my children and those I love. But I can make a Stand Against Racism, and I will. I will join with others across America and in Fort Dodge on April 29 by signing a pledge - an all-encompassing statement of my belief that the values of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people should be the standard upon which all our lives should be predicated. I invite each like-minded person to join me. As of April 15, you can sign the "Stand Against Racism" banner on display in the Lobby at the YWCA. Then mark your calendar for April 29 and plan to attend the Stand Against Racism Rally at the AFES Center, the former Sacred Heart School, at 214 S. 13th St. at 5:30. The banner will be on location to sign, several speakers have been asked to share their perceptions of how race has influenced their lives and refreshments will be available. We'll all be able to enjoy the fresh perspective of Webster County children who have tackled the issues of race through their essays and artist interpretations in hopes of leading us all to a new understanding of the importance of equal rights for every person. Through art and prose our kids are leading the way answering the tough questions:
How can I stop racism at my school?
I take this pledge, fully aware that the struggle to overcome and eliminate racism will not end with a mere pledge, but calls for an ongoing transformation within me and society.
to look deeply and continuously in my heart and in my mind to identify all signs and vestiges of racism;
to rebuke the use of language and behavior toward others born of such racism;
to root out such racism in my daily life and in my encounters with persons I know and with strangers I do not know; and
to expand my consciousness to be more aware and sensitive to my use of overt and subtle expressions of racism and racial stereotypes.
to challenge any expression of racism in my presence by my family, my children, my friends, my co-workers and those I encounter; and
not to patronize companies known to engage in racial discrimination and the perpetration of racial stereotypes.
I pledge, within my means
to support candidates for public service who prominently, openly and enthusiastically promote racial equality in all aspects of human affairs; and
to actively support the YWCA, as well as other organizations working to eradicate racism from our society.
I commit myself
to Stand Against Racism and discrimination of any kind; and
to a lifetime of promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people in my community and in the world.
Adapted from the "Pledge to Heal Racism in My Life," Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, April 10, 2006.
What would I do if my friend of a different race was being harassed?
Why is it important for people to have equal rights?
How do I know racism is not an innate feeling, but rather a learned hatred?
Any relevant discussion of racism and its myriad facets is likely to be as confusing as it is uplifting and as contentious as it is satisfying. If we are challenged, it will be a challenge to be different than we have learned to be. I am reminded of the words of Don Williams Jr., who wrote: "On an altar of prejudice we crucify our own, yet the blood of all children is the color of God." Now is the time to make a stand against racism; as we change ourselves, we can change the world for the better.
Ann Davidson is director of the Fort Dodge YWCA.