Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Race Prejudice, Frickin' Chicken and the Need for Change

crispy chicken

Some months ago I drove south of the border (from New York State into Pennsylvania) to try to understand why some Pennsylvanians claimed that race (as in Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and African American) would be a significant factor in their choice for U.S. President. Shortly after entering Pennsylvania, I stopped for gas beside a restaurant with this sign, that offered "Crispy Frickin' Chicken." Frick, of course, was a notorious American industrialist, "known for his uncompromising and cruel tactics". The lower-case word "frick", is slang for a four-letter word, unspeakable on daytime TV. Here then, was a not-so-subtle clue about food choices and political choices.

The vegetarian in me passed on the chicken, and then, arriving in the city of muggerly love, I spoke with a number of older residents. Some were for Clinton; others would support whoever won the Democratic nomination; one 84-year-old Republican was so disgusted at the current state of national affairs that he vowed to vote Democratic, for the first time in his life.

Yet the news, during the Pennsylvania primaries, reported that for a number of voters "race is a factor" in their choice of candidates. In blunter words, they would not vote for a non-white. Every day these Pennsylvanians worship and cheer for black athletes such as Jimmy Rollins, Allen Iverson, and Donovan McNabb. They have elected black men as mayors of their largest city. But never in a million years would they want to see a President of color: a non-white in the White House.

This foolish and perilous attitude -- this racial prejudice --

Babylon city from Griffith's film, Intolerance
has been with us since the ancient world of Babylon. Today, there are three requirements to vote for U.S. President: you must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old, and register to vote. In the year 2000 we learned than anyone can become president; and now we understand that the reason for that is that anyone can vote for president. A "voter's license" is not required: no tests must be passed, no training given, no skills or knowledge must be demonstrated. And perhaps it is better that way, because noone is wise enough to determine what these mental skills should be. Yet there is one thing we might ask: in order to vote, you must promise to your God, or your own deep self, or swear on your holy book (be it a bible or Hamlet or Leaves of Grass) that your vote shall not in any way be influenced by race.

Racial prejudice in America will not evaporate until long after November 2008. What can we do until then? Find someone you know -- your friend, your colleague, your bus driver -- who will not vote for a black candidate. And then talk with them about why they need to change this way of thinking. Explain how prejudice harms other persons, harms society in general, and harms the person who does not believe that all human beings deserve equal rights.

Change, of course, is what this 2008 presidential election is all about. Not only a change in Washington,D.C. -- which is of the utmost significance -- but a change, an expansion of consciousness, a great opening in the American mind.