Ray, 9-6-2020

Guest Column: Educate yourself about diversity to fight bigotry 

In fact, on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, United Sikhs, a global humanitarian charity that advocates for civil and human rights, released a timeline of some four dozen suspected hate crimes perpetrated against Sikhs since the first retaliatory killing of a Sikh four days after New York’s Twin Towers were brought down by radical Muslims.

Of course, Sikhs aren’t Muslims. And Sikhs had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But neither did 99.999999 percent of Muslims — a fact that too many Americans seem incapable of grasping.

The turbans and beards worn by devout Sikh men make them easy targets for Islamophobes, xenophobes and anyone-who’s-not-exactly-like-me-phobes. And such mistreatment isn’t reserved just for Sikhs. Hijab-wearing Muslim women face harassment. Mosques are desecrated, vandalized and burned. Muslims are murdered.

Jews likewise face an array of hate crimes. Worshippers have been gunned down right within their synagogues. Millions of dollars that congregations want to use for humanitarian activities are instead required to protect people and property.

A long list of African American churches have been burned down. And the mass killing at Mother Emanuel in Charleston was white supremacy at its most vile.

In fact, anyone who looks, sounds or acts different from the preferred norm of some bigot or some group of bigots is a potential target. The result is a trail of vandalism, arson, assault and murder that blights the image and unity of our nation.

Now allow me to shift gears.

By profession, I’m a risk management specialist. I operate an insurance agency, but I also conduct seminars and classes around the country to train others in the field of risk management. Moreover, I serve as an expert witness at trials involving risk management issues.

When I reflect on the hate-motivated actions just described, I view them through a risk management lens. I’m always on the lookout for preventable risks. And I seek to anticipate the potential damage if such risks aren’t preemptively addressed. Which leads to a thing called liability. Stated more simply: Who’s to blame and to what degree?

We’ve always been a diverse nation, which is why our founders chose as our national motto “E pluribus unum” — out of many, one. They fully understood what a colossal challenge they were undertaking. But they were true visionaries.

They knew that the social experiment they were launching — they called it the United States of America — was doomed if we ever lost sight of the vision itself or the benefits that spring from that vision. Eternal vigilance is the price of keeping any vision alive — E pluribus unum included.

The Hebrew scriptures record how Moses enumerated for the Israelites an array of prerequisites for national success. Then he wisely added: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In short: Be obsessive about keeping the vision alive.

But that’s precisely what’s not being done in the United States today. One prime example is that currently only nine states out of 50 require a full-year class of U.S. government (civics) in high school. Yet it was in those classes that for decades youthful Americans learned about the founders’ vision — about equal access, about due process, about innocent until proven guilty, about liberty and justice for all, about E pluribus unum.

If I were in court and highlighting blame, I’d point to government officials, civic leaders, educators, faith leaders. But I’d also point to every one of us.

We the people, collectively, have failed. But we the people can also recapture the vision and dramatically reverse our failure.

Robert J. Ray, a risk management specialist, serves on the board of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.