Years ago, a friend of a friend was telling a story about a local horse deal, when she said something that took me aback. Describing the deal, she said she had been “jewed down.” Not only had I never heard a neighbor make a reference to Jews in any context, I had never in my life heard someone standing right in front of me say something anti-Semitic.
Puzzling over it later, I was sure of two things: 1) that the person who used it was unthinking in her incorporation of an ugly stereotype into her vocabulary, and thus at some level into her worldview, and 2) that if she were asked to think about what it meant for Jewish people like me for such a phrase to be used, she would see the darker significance and gladly stop using it.
When I saw reports of white supremacists with Nazi flags marching in Charlottesville, I thought again about the ways that people come to adopt bigoted and hate-filled views. And I thought about how we try to prevent those views and how we respond to them.
To prevent racism and hate we explore humanity – its width and breadth, its every nook and cranny. We tell stories that reveal the depth and complexity of lives that are different from our own. When the stranger gains a human face, it becomes harder for us to hold on to simplistic and dehumanizing fictions that ignorance and fear create.
The way we respond to bigotry and hate is a measure of our humanity, and a test of our democracy. The National Endowment for the Humanities was created by legislators who knew that American democracy is only as strong as its citizens — and our educated support for the protections it provides.
When, contrary to the President’s budget request, today’s House of Representatives recently reaffirmed that support, legislators sent a message to the American people. Thank your legislators for that support and what it makes possible. And thanks to you, too, for yours.
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