Nov 9

Responding To Acts of Intolerance

As a member of the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission I developed some protocols for the commission and the community relating to how best to respond to verbal or other acts of intolerance. I now find myself applying them not just locally but to state and even national incidents — where they apply equally well. And I find them underscored by the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Stanford, where thousands — including me and my daughter — turned out to honor him and hear his messages of gentleness, kindness and love for humanity. Maybe I am hypersensitive to intolerance, having just finished a book by the Dalai Lama in which he indicates the path to happiness is in developing warmth, understanding and compassion toward others. Here are a few of the HRC protocols:

Rule #1
Failure to object to an act of intolerance may be interpreted as tacit endorsement of the act by the perpetrator(s), public, and the victim(s). Report an act of intolerance to the police, Department of Justice, or any other appropriate authority such as school administrators and business supervisors.

Rule #2
Do not repeat stereotypes or un-examined half-truths about others. People tend to believe what they hear, regardless of whether it is true.

Rule #3
Speak out against jokes or slurs that target people or groups. Silence sends a message that you agree. It is not enough to refuse to laugh.

Confident that my complaint to George Bush’s Justice Department, local law enforcement authorities, and our school district about recent comments made by William Bennett would accomplish nothing, I am fulfilling my self-created duty under the first protocol — to object to and report an act of intolerance — by writing this column.

Protocol three came to mind when I heard Bennett’s comments on blacks and crime. He said that aborting every black baby in this country would reduce the crime rate. If that is not a slur that targets blacks I do not know what is. Bennett, a former anti-drug czar and a former U.S. Education Secretary, is known as the “virtue magnate” for having written books like the “Book of Virtues” and for garnering large fees for lectures and manuals on morality.

In addition to violating protocol three, Bennett is guilty of violating protocol two by reinforcing the false notion that blacks are more prone to committing crimes. He does not comprehend how his comments reinforce such false stereotypes. Can a former Education Secretary be so clue less about how damaging such comments can be to already tattered race relations in this country?
Perhaps it gives new meaning to the concept of cronyism, rivaling that of Michael Brown’s appointment to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that someone like Bennett could be appointed to a position as important as Education Secretary.

Bennett refused to apologize for his slur against blacks. Instead, he criticized people who took exception to his comments, stating they owe him an apology for taking his remarks out of context.
This is not the first time Bennett’s slurs targeted a group. Several years ago, he criticized President Bill Clinton for conferring respectability on the gay quest for public approval. At the time President Clinton was the first ever president to speak to an organized gay-rights group. As part of his attack, Bennett said homosexuality “takes 30 years off your life.”

His comments were based upon thoroughly discredited research by Paul Cameron, who resigned under fire from the American Psychological Association and was later formally terminated from membership following complaints about his research methods. Cameron asserted that even gays who do not have AIDS tend to die by their mid 40s (and lesbians by their late 40s).

Bennett should have developed some humility and perspective from his personal nightmare incident a few years ago. We learned then that Bennett used money earned from his sermons and best-selling moral instruction manuals to finance his multimillion-dollar gambling habit. One would hope this taught the former Education Secretary the need to be more accepting of others.

There are more difficult challenges for all of us in addressing acts of intolerance than the obvious one Bennett presents. How do I respond when a friend sends e-mails containing stereotypical jokes about a particular group? Am I being too concerned about political correctness if I politely reply that such jokes are inappropriate and I explain why? Will we become a bland and timid society if we constantly have to tread lightly? I think not. Perhaps an effective weapon against extremism is the old saying about not tolerating intolerance. The Dalai Lama’s book is an inspiring guide in our struggles to find happiness. Then again, maybe I never liked Bennett’s holier-than-thou attitude and I relish the opportunity to report him. It makes me happy to do so.