The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
By Marcia Prichason
Some years ago when I was teaching Middle School in Harvey, IL, my students
were obsessed with Jerry Springer. Shock TV was his specialty. These were kids
who qualified for free lunch, wore the same clothes for weeks because the Laundromat was too expensive, and dodged drug dealers and prostitutes to get to school. I often wondered how they made it there at all.
Maybe they focused on Jerry Springer’s daily soap opera because their own lives were in such turmoil. At least with Jerry, they could laugh at someone else’s messed up existence.
Reality for these kids was that they often fell asleep in class. Others couldn’t stay after school for help because they had to pick up brothers and sisters from grade school. Many pinned their hopes and dreams on playing a sport well enough to go pro. But each and every one of them believed that, despite the reality of their lives, they could be somebody.
In America, we believe that any individual, from even the most humble beginnings, can become a success. All it takes is enough drive, intelligence, and a little bit of luck. Our history is littered with examples: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, Willa Cather, and James Baldwin amongst them.
But, I’m worried that soon that promise may not be a reality anymore. Maybe we are coming to an age where shock TV IS the reality. And, the shock is that only a few, select individuals will be able to be successful. The rest of us would be destined to live in poverty, with few if any rights, limited control over our own bodies, and laws that discriminate against us ever reaching full equality.
The fear mongering, hatred, and antipathy in this country has reached an alarming state and, like my kids in Harvey, we keep clambering for more. We seem to thrive on sound bites. We have instant access to an amazing array of mean spirited things people say and do. And, this garbage feeds our insatiable appetite for scandal, outrageous behavior, and divisiveness.
But, it’s time to separate ourselves from this “Jerry Springer” mentality and take a close look at where we are going as a nation. If we do not, I am afraid that we are all in for a shock; the America we so cherish will be there for only the few, the lucky, and the powerful.
These privileged few know that the best way to win at anything is to divide the enemy; pit one faction against the other and create fear. That seems to be working pretty well. For example, even though facts prove that all minorities in
this country – Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, women, and LGBTQ individuals – work hard, contribute to their communities and stay out of trouble, we have learned to fear one another.
The seeds of mistrust, once planted are hard to uproot. But, if we do not get past the fear and mistrust of each other, we will never realize our greatest potential. We must co-exist peacefully in a country that accepts and encourages its citizens to get ahead. For if not, we are doomed to failure.
It’s time to stop being afraid. It’s time to recognize that the color of one’s skin, ethnic, cultural, religious background, sexual orientation or sexual identity do not determine the character of the individual.
And, it’s not too late. Many of my students in Harvey were able to rise above their circumstances and are now successful contributors to society. But, they didn’t do it alone. Nobody does. They combined their hopes, dreams, and hard work with the compassion, empathy, and confidence others had in them; that combination moved my kids forward. They prove that it’s still possible to realize the promise of a just America where anyone can overcome hardship and become a success.
But, to continue to fulfill that promise, we need to stop reacting to the provocations of the fear-mongers. They want to draw a wedge between People of
Color and LGBTQ individuals. They want to do away with women’s hard won
reproductive rights and demonize Muslims as terrorists. They also want to
marginalize the poor as they consolidate their wealth and power.
Let us, instead, find the power we hold within ourselves to realize that together we are stronger than the hate-mongers. Let us be proactive in moving this country forward to fulfill its promise of equality for all Americans.
So, if you haven’t registered to vote, do it now! If you have any money to donate, do it now! If you can volunteer for a better tomorrow, do it now! Let’s not let America become another episode of shock TV. We all deserve better than
…And I’m just a mom who loves her son…
*Previously published in http://www.thequ.co