26 February 2008

Enough with the ugly (and endless) anti-ethnic emails

Not as common in Britain as it is in the USA, the mass-mailing of hate emails is becoming a popular method used by racist groups to spread their noxious message.

If you receive dozens of poisonous emails each week, as I do, from well meaning people who are intent on bashing certain ethnic groups, then perhaps you also feel: "Enough already!" It is not just the volume of this hate mail that disturbs me; it's also that so much of it is misinformed, scurrilous, and/or downright false.

The two groups now in the crosshairs of this activity are Hispanics and Muslims. In California, where I live in the winters, Hispanics are highly prominent both in population and as subjects of comment.

At this point, it is fair to mention we do have problems that are in dire need of solutions. Yes, the borders are porous, there are unique problems to be addressed within the Hispanic community, and there are other issues widely and hotly discussed in today's political climate. It is not my objective to solve them; it is an attempt to put things in prospective, tone down the rhetoric, and deal with facts rather than the absurd urban legends about Hispanics who came earlier, and immigrants yet to come. That is the only way a well-reasoned solution can come about.

There are a variety of false and mean-spirited anti-immigrant messages circulating on on the Internet. Most complain about the supposed free ride Hispanic immigrants get in America, i.e. the horrendous costs to the taxpayers, the loss of American jobs and the cause of crime in our communities. Such messages are a mishmash of fact, fiction and plain prejudice. To get any traction on a solution, we need facts, not hyperbole. It is always too easy to play off fear and anxiety.

Part of the problem stems from a common but fallacious point of logic, which we all learned in Logic 101: Juan is Hispanic. Illegals are Hispanic. Therefore Juan is an illegal. This fallacy (untruth), known as a syllogism, is flawed logic. Reflecting on that before we judge Juan would be a good idea.

Another good idea is to change the rhetoric. I have now stopped using the word "illegal" and started using the words "documented" and "undocumented." This is to help tone down the rhetoric so we can come up with fair, humane, economically sound solutions for our country. I further believe this approach is best for all Americans as we traverse a heated and sometimes angry presidential campaign, in which candidates have been trying to outdo each other in turning up the heat on this issue. It is up to us, as citizens, to point the candidates in a more productive direction with patience, tolerance and reason.

In a similar, but even more vitriolic vein, I get some really mean (and usually distorted or false) material about Muslims. I can understand this hatred, though I cannot agree with it. There is no denying certain Islamic fundamentalists are a danger to our country, and have already caused great harm. Protecting ourselves from this radical group is essential and warranted. My complaint is that the criticisms I hear are way over the top, and tend to paint all Muslims with the same brush. If we have learned anything about unmitigated prejudice in our lives – whether it be from Adolf Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan – it is that such views are unwarranted, unfair, and even dangerous. Yet too many false messages get passed from computer to computer – even after having been thoroughly discredited.

Bashing Hispanics and Muslims in America is bad for many reasons, aside from the fact that it is wrong. First, it is obviously unfair to members of those groups who are people of good will, peace, and integrity. Second, it poisons and polarizes our society, as all prejudice and bigotry ultimately do. Third, it does not push accommodation, dialog, and understanding forward; indeed it exacerbates the many legitimate problems that are in search of a solution. But most important, it goes back to the adage that intolerance is OK as long as it is not my ox that is being gored. Which brings me to one of the most famous quotes on this subject, and one that we should all note and heed. It is from Martin Niemoeller, who used it in speeches (it has been variously worded) after World War II:

"First they came for the Jews, but I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and no one was left to speak out for me."

The bottom line: There is no place in our society for the disparagement of any group – and it is up to each of us to speak out, and end it now.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

Myles Spicer on the MinnPost

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