Saturday, October 11, 2008

The trouble with the "Arab" comment

Now for starters, I do give credit to John McCain for taking back the microphone and actually saying something. In the moment I am sure he was thinking on his feet and that was as good as anyone might do.

But, my problem is that his response only goes so far as to explain that Obama is a decent person. He leaves the whole Arab comment out there as if it is not being one that makes Obama a decent person. For starters, Arab is not a synonym for Muslim, nor is it a synonym for terrorist. Being either one of those (Arab/Muslim that is) should not be a disqualifier for being a decent person, or President of the USA for that matter. In fact more Arab-Americans are Christians than they are Muslims. But again, these facts do not have any bearing on one's "American-ness."

Just last night at dinner, someone I was talking to made the comment "Yeah, but don't you at least wish he had a different name? Something less..I dunno..." No, I don't. It can be easier in a place like Cincinnati to retreat into thinking like this because we are primarily a Black and White area. (I should note here that Arab-Americans are classified as white under the current census categories). We aren't confronted with the task of living in a diverse world in our daily lives as much as people in other cities might be. But while it may easier to think this way, that does not make it excusable. It is still prejudice.

I consider my time spent in Los Angeles as one of the more eye-opening experiences when it comes to race and minorities. There are very few cities like it in the world. It was definitely a stretching experience for me, and only part of my own journey of acceptance of others. But it was one I think I needed as well. Los Angeles is certainly no utopia when it comes to race and ethnicity, but for me at least, seeing families and people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds doing what they can to muddle through life there began to break down some of the preconceptions I had. It also showed me that the hesitancy towards anyone/thing not like us is not restricted to white Americans, but is a human trait we all share. However, our response cannot be "See - Everyone is racist so it is ok for me to be a little bit too!" When we live with a lowest common denominator attitude, it can only go lower. If we decide that there are things we can all aspire too, then the chances of it going up also increase.

And the only real way to combat prejudice in my opinion is through fellowship and community with those who are different. I don't think walking in someone else's shoes is really a solution. That is still an isolated action. Walking beside others though, is a communal activity. Whether it is working, worshipping, conversing with, or just enjoying their company, when we spend time with people out of an open heart, we at least provide the opportunity to love our neighbors. While our city may be predominantly white and black, it is not only that. Our goal should not be to seek out our Black friend, our Asian friend, our Arab or Hispanic friends so that we can sleep at night having met our diversity quota. But our goal should be an openness to recognize the diversity that does exist in our City, and then the freedom to develop relationships with anyone regardless of how much they are or aren't like us (I have focused mainly on race here, but this goes for socio-economic status, religious background, or urban/rural divides as well).

Finally, I am not writing this as a condemnation of McCain for his response, but more as a way to try and point in the direction of the real issue there. So yes McCain is right that Obama is a decent family man, but so too are Arabs and Muslims. Let us not make demographics the guage we use to determine decency or american-ness.