Bigotry is like pornography; everyone’s seen it, no one admits to taking part, and it’s never a victimless crime. Both appear to be popular these days — must be the Internet.
Racism is a process, not just a condition. We categorize people according to what we believe are common traits, and every time we see them validated, it reinforces the prejudice. We rarely make time for the exception that disproves the bias, preferring to see that exception as the anomaly.
It doesn’t help that it is a little easier to be a bigot these days. It used to be acceptable to hate the Russians because of the Cold War. There wasn’t any pressure to play nice or to understand them, and we persuaded ourselves that it was the system we disliked, not the people.
Islam is the un-favored flavor of the decade, and the condemnation of the prejudice gets only a cursory treatment. In some arenas, dehumanizing adherents to Islam is accepted and popular, and championed on cable news — much in the same way that Jews, gypsies and homosexuals were stripped of their humanity before being marched off the concentration camps.
Hating the belief and not the believer never works. It’s always the latter that loses their rights, goes to jail or gets tied to a fence on the side of the road.
The point is that we cannot simply profess tolerance and understanding. It takes work. We have to act in ways that push the limits of our comfort zone.
In Glendale, it means taking a serious look at candidates for the upcoming City Council race that would have been dismissed out of hand by a lot of voters. The component of race in Glendale elections is discussed as a campaign reality among some candidates and as a tool by others. You won’t find anyone saying it doesn’t matter.
The recent Armenian Power task force arrests couldn’t be timed better for fueling racial profiling. Those who have a poor view of Armenians will find validation, and Armenians will suffer the brunt of it, in addition to the victimization they have already suffered at the hands of these criminals.
We have to do more than ignore race when looking at candidates; we have to take an active role in not letting it dictate our decisions. You actually have to say it out loud.
I am suggesting that Glendale voters actually read the candidate statements. Not just the familiar names, all of them. It would be helpful for the city clerk to post the statements on a separate page that doesn’t reveal the identity of the author until you have picked your favorites. It takes work to separate the issues you value in common with a candidate from the prejudice — no matter how small — we all have.
I want candidates to campaign for every vote, not just the ones they think they have in the bag. I want voters to purposefully withhold their support from any candidate that doesn’t try. I want votes on principle. I want every candidate to debate like they have a real shot at winning the audience, and I want every audience to offer up their support to whoever wins the issues.
Most importantly, I never want to have a sense that a sitting council member isn’t serving my community’s interest. Even if they didn’t get my vote, I want to know that I have a fair shot at theirs. That hasn’t always been the case.
After all, the choices in this election are lean, and it is a grave insult to our democracy to abdicate responsibility for what you do with that second vote.
MICHAEL TEAHAN lives in the Adams Hill area of Glendale with a clear view of the Verdugo Mountains so he can keep an eye on things. He can be reached at email@example.com.