Standing Up And Speaking Out

In the popular academy award winning film "Crash," the issues of race and gender cause a group of strangers in Los Angeles to physically and emotionally collide.
"Crash" tells the tale of a ...

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In the popular academy award winning film "Crash," the issues of race and gender cause a group of strangers in Los Angeles to physically and emotionally collide.

"Crash" tells the tale of a variety of people so desperate for human contact that they "crash" into one another, sometimes with unbelievable cruelty and brutality.

This film has a lot to say about the vulnerability and brokenness of humanity, and even says something about faith.

Having only recently seen the film, I could not believe that it was such a powerful social commentary on how we often treat one another. The various vignettes painfully underscored some subtle, lethal ways that we treat one another.

Prejudice is rampant among us. It wears many different faces. It knows no boundaries, no colors, and no economic or social condition. It is unfortunately a learned attitude, closely related to its' brother discrimination, which is a learned behavior.

Today, prejudice and discrimination are politically incorrect. Although most will agree that they are socially unacceptable notions, they are infectious and present everywhere. No community is exempt from these destructive attitudes and behaviors.

So many of us unknowingly carry a wide range of prejudices that we learned as children. They are based on stereotypes and fear. We get angry and oftentimes they get expressed inappropriately.

In recent times, prejudice around color has more profoundly emerged due to the war on terror and the escalating concerns around undocumented immigration.

Violence is becoming the major way people are choosing to express their fear and discrimination. After 9/11, there was a flood of violent attacks on people who looked like they were from the Middle East.

People from Latin America or of Spanish descent who don't have a good command of the English language, are presumed by some to automatically be undocumented and thus are treated abusively.

We continue to see a growing number of circumstances around racial profiling, where people in authority act in ways that do not respect the rights and dignity of all people.

There have been a growing number of incidents around anti-Semitism. When these hate crimes have been committed by teenagers, some have tried to minimize this discriminating behavior.

There are too many times when those who have, are treated differently then those who do not have.

Think for a moment on how most of us who are over forty-five learned American history. Most of us growing up in the 50's, 60's and 70's were taught that American Indians were savages and that what the government did to them was correct. In truth, who was really savage?

Similarly, many of us grew up believing separate but equal was morally correct. Most religions, until the sixties, reinforced that prejudicial attitude and discriminating practice.

The justification of slavery and the use of separate facilities for people of color was unconscionable.

To think that by our silence, we tolerated the Holocaust and coexisted with the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa is mind-boggling.

Too often, it is convenient to be blind to the hate that surrounds us. If we acknowledge it and are people of integrity, we have to do something about it. Standing up and speaking out is never easy. Silence, for many, always seems to be the safer path to walk.

Unfortunately, hate and intolerance is not lessening. In some ways, it is manifesting itself in more painful, insidious ways.

People can sometimes be painfully mean. How many young people, and older people for that matter, struggle with sexual orientation and trying to find their way, and are viciously attacked and put down?

What about the social stigma that too often is attached to a young person who may have sought mental health counseling for problems at home? Or a teenager who is wrestling with drug addiction and has gone away for treatment? Too many people are quick to judge and kick these struggling human beings to the curb.

What is most disheartening is how so many people still seem to judge and evaluate by externals. They are more fixated by the look of a person then by the content of one's heart.

In this age of tattoos and body piercings, it is troubling, while sitting in the stands of a ballgame or waiting on line for a movie, to hear judgmental comments that people make based solely on appearance.

Many years ago, I was sitting in the back of arraignment court because someone had asked if I would reach out to a young person who was going to be arraigned, but had no one to stand up for him.

Case by case, people came before the judge. The cast of characters ran the gamut of humanity and social class. Toward the end of the roll call, a young man in a three-piece suit was called forward, flanked by both of his parents. He was being charged with a serious drug charge and was already out on a high bail. His parents were respected professionals in the community. I knew all three.

The ADA wanted to increase bail. The young man's attorney gave a stellar performance as to how the young man was basically a good kid from an exceptional family. Their lawyer appealed to the judge that the young man be released to his parents care. The judge did that. That afternoon, our "misguided" youngster was back on the street, dealing drugs to teenagers.

The young man I came to support was next. He was brought in in shackles. He was white, in dirty, ripped jeans and a flannel shirt. He was charged with breaking and entering. He was sixteen. He had legal aid representing him. He had no fixed address, so he was being sent back to jail until his next court date.

He was kicked out of his house in the middle of winter. He and his Step Dad did not get along. He broke into his own home to get one of his winter jackets. He had no voice. No parents stood next to him. There is something wrong with this picture.

People of every age and background continue to judge by externals. Too often, when those judgments have to do with teenagers, they shackle them to a path of disrespect and exclusion.

We live in an unpredictable and scary world. The movie "Crash" reminds us of that human plea that lives within each of us for connection, for protection, and for respect for one's human rights. It is a cry for redemption that we all need to heed.