The chaos over President Donald Trump’s travel ban, particularly of Muslims, brought back a memory of an event that changed my understanding of bigotry and hatred.
Several decades ago, I attended a lecture at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in St. Paul. The lecture was well done and interesting, though I cannot tell you the topic anymore. Following the speaker, there was time for questions and comments. What one man shared with those gathered, shocked me to my core.
Closer to the front of the auditorium than where I was sitting, a man stood up and began to quietly talk. He was a white man and wearing a short winter jacket. If I close my eyes I can see him as if it were only yesterday.
A burning cross — in St. Paul
He described how growing up in St. Paul, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in his front yard – because his family was Catholic. He remembered being huddled inside with his family. They feared these strange men might also burn down their home.
Whoa! Wait a minute! The KKK in Minnesota?! I thought the Klan was found only in the south, their violence focused on black people. Not here, not on people’s religion.
I lived in Washington, D.C., during the tumultuous civil rights days and came to some understanding of racism. I moved back here to northern Minnesota and encountered even more blatant prejudice against Native people. I believed racism had to do with skin color. Not anyone’s religious faith.
As a woman in a profession, I experienced discrimination against women. But never was my faith or that of others a source for prejudice.
But here was this man describing a terrifying event, experienced as a boy of about 10. Men dressed in strange outfits condemning his family for being Catholic.
Whatever the ‘-ism,’ it’s all the same thing
Call it racism, sexism or any of the other –isms used to justify violence toward others. It is all the same thing. Turn a person or a group of people into objects, take away their individual rights, and focus hatred, fear, and violence toward them.
Bigotry is never right or moral. Burning crosses, canceling visas, and separating family members only generates more fear, more hatred, and more violence.
Elizabeth Nagel is a published Minnesota writer and poet. She has taught at The Loft and is currently teaching at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts.
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