If there was ever a moment in time when we as Americans needed to dig deeply and take a good look at ourselves in the mirror, that moment is now. Today, when I stare at the face of America, I see the distorted image of a country needlessly plagued by hatred. It's hatred fueled by ignorant prejudices toward people of different races, religions, ethnicities and lifestyles.
The United States of America has always stood as a beacon of diversity, a democracy that celebrates differences. This is the very land where the greatest civil rights movement of all time broke the shackles of old bigotries.
That's why the recent uptick in religious and race-based hatred in America is so shocking and so very disheartening. And the climate of hate is only becoming worse, escalating and spreading in the most alarming and tragic ways. Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 2,000 mass shootings in America — from El Paso, Texas, to Dayton, Ohio, to Parkland, Florida. These shootings are tearing us apart.
My own cousin the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was just one of far too many victims. He was gunned down by a troubled young man in his church in South Carolina. After being welcomed into the house of prayer with open arms by those in attendance, the attacker then turned on them out of his own racial hatred toward African Americans. Lives were taken. Families were shattered and destroyed. And for what?
The numbers show that the hatred is growing. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 1,020 active hate groups in the United States. That same year, the Anti-Defamation League recorded a total of 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in America — including the most deadly attack against the Jewish community in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Minority groups from coast to coast including blacks, Muslims, Jews, nonwhite immigrants and the LGBTQ community have come under attack — online, in their houses of worship, in their workplaces and even in schools and on playgrounds.
What is the driving force behind these hatemongering people that choose to hate others so blindly?
To explore the root of hatred, I recently interviewed a man who was a former neo-Nazi skinhead. This man had never met a Jewish person but vehemently hated them all. At one point in his life, this man was in desperate need of a job. Living in Philadelphia at the time, the then-white supremacist was given a job by a Jewish business owner who mentored him, showered him with respect and treated him with the utmost kindness. That's when the neo-Nazi, whose heart had been filled with blind hate, changed for the better. He realized he had been brainwashed to hate Jews and had never actually met one.
Ignorance is one of mankind's worst enemies.
To explore the root of hatred even further, I also recently sat down with Sara Bloomfield, the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I asked her about how and why anti-Semitism has existed for over 2,000 years. Bloomfield likened anti-Semitism to a disease, a cancer that finds different places to morph and new ways to manifest. She also spoke of the conspiracy theories, myths and misinformation about Jews that have been promulgated over the centuries — especially in lands where the Jews were persecuted as minorities and labeled as the Other.
As the director of one of America's most important institutions — which serves as a living memorial to the Holocaust and also as a databank of historical evidence of genocide — Bloomfield shares the heavy responsibility of imparting the lessons of the Holocaust to prevent future atrocities. But this responsibility is one we should all share as Americans. It is incumbent upon all of us to not become numb and complacent to stereotypes and hateful rhetoric but to stand up against it and promote diversity and human dignity.
We can and must do better. We all need to remember that, regardless of our skin color, we are all made in the image of our creator. We are all God's children, and we must to learn to live together and love one another. After all, we are supposed to be the United States of America. And with this title comes our collective obligation to treat one another with civility.
Our code of conduct must include respect for all differences, all perspectives and even all political views. To succeed as a nation, Americans need to find a way to disagree about politics and still have civil discourse without strife.
But true success will be the day when we can look at one another devoid of ignorance, when we can look at ourselves in the mirror and be proud of the diversity we see.
To find out more about Armstrong Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: bones64 at Pixabay