End the ignorance

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Racial attack by teen reported in Monett" is the headline that caught my attention on the front page of a recent issue of the Monett Times. According to the news report, written by Melonie Roberts, three juveniles allegedly assaulted a young Hispanic woman outside a Mexican restaurant in Monett. According to statements filed by Monett police officers, one of the young men, thought to be around 12 or 13 years old, spit on the woman. The boy allegedly told the victim that he spit on her because "she didn't belong in this country" and that she "should go back where she belongs." When the woman followed the boys, the one young man pulled a toy gun out of his coat and shot at the victim, hitting her in the stomach with what appeared to be a BB pellet.

This attack is alarming, and sadly, is not the first of its kind in the Barry County area. A month ago, a Hispanic high school student at Cassville was beaten up by another CHS student. The beating was unprovoked and resulted in the attacker's expulsion from school. According to unconfirmed reports, this young victim and his friends had been harassed prior to the attack at school. One of the incidents allegedly occurred at a city park with adults watching nearby. The Hispanic young men were apparently pushed around while playing a game of soccer, and the adults in the vicinity made no effort to intervene. As in the Monett attack, these young men were targeted because of the color of their skin.

Anyone who knows me knows that I despise racism. To hate someone because they are different is fundamentally wrong and is the result of ignorance on the behalf of the racist individual. I have been known to get up and leave a table or room if racist jokes are being told. I have no stomach for that kind of humor and to listen quietly to such jokes would be condoning bad behavior.

These recent acts of violence against our Hispanic neighbors should not be tolerated. We are proud to say that the majority of students at Cassville High School that we talked to following the attack were ready to give the attacker some of his own medicine. It was great to see the students rally around the young victim in a show of support and unity. He happens to be a member of the high school soccer team, and I know firsthand that his teammates definitely had his back and will continue to look out for him.

The perpetrators in these recent incidents are teenagers, and nine times out of 10, these young people have learned their attitude of racism from their parents. When I hear a young person speak an ethnic slur, I imagine their parent making the same statement from his or her easy chair at home. Ignorance breeds ignorance, but ignorance is no excuse.

It's up to us as adults to fight racism in our communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our churches, and maybe most importantly, in our homes. I am glad people from different cultures and different countries are making their homes here. This diversity makes our communities more interesting and helps teach our children that there's a big, wide world outside the borders of Barry County and it's theirs to explore.

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil Rights movement, and two of my heroes are Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy. These men envisioned a world where the color of one's skin didn't matter. They fought for this vision, and in the end, they were assassinated for their beliefs. When I take a stand against a racist joke or go out of my way to make sure one of our Hispanic students feels welcome in our schools, I imagine I'm doing my small part to continue the legacy of King and Kennedy. I hope you'll join me in my quest to make Barry County color blind. Teach your children to love, not to hate. Teach them to embrace differences rather than fear them, and above all, lead by example.

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality . . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a 2-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list." - Dennis Leary, comedian.