The evil of fear and hatred are not the sole province of extremists like Muslim militants, violent anti-abortionists and white supremacists. Understanding this fact in no way excuses or justifies the horrific acts committed by such criminals. The problem is, most of us fail to see through the camouflage of such poisonous and high-profile acts, and understand the subtleties of hatred occurring daily among ordinary folks.
Contrary to what some authorities say, hatred and bigotry does not stem from a few "bad apples." Historically, we have denied our complicity with such dark and repugnant forces by misperceiving that the "monster" is in the "other" and we are the innocent "victims." The times demand that we must now awaken from our denials and do more than just express shock and sorrow when such evil occurs. It's becoming increasingly clear that we have two basic choices: Become instruments of war or instruments of peace. We can't have it both ways.
Loretta Williams, who is the director of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights and Bigotry, lays out the foundational truth: "The United States was founded on a terrible contradiction: on one hand, ideals of liberty and equality; on the other hand, appropriation of the land and power by white males with property."
She goes on to explain that "hate acted upon is a demonstration of power. It is also a refusal to share power." This is especially evidenced during periods of major transition in American history when outbreaks of hate and violence occurred, such as ending legalized slavery, followed by ending Jim Crow segregation laws and practice.
What we are witnessing today with the failing economy, immigration of Hispanics to America and the historic election of a black man as president is a resurgence of white male fear and their misperceptions of losing ground or power. There are almost 1,000 racist hate Web sites on the Internet, a 54 percent increase from eight years ago. There is also an attempt to bring overt bigotry back in fashion, politically, by the far right, led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich attacking what they claim is the extension of "identity politics."
The GOP used a milder version of implicit racism against Sen. Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, but it didn't work. Apparently, Limbaugh and Gingrich weren't paying attention when they blatantly labeled President Obama and his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayer, as "racists" without evidence to support their claims.
I don't think any reasonable and sane person would argue against the above examples of fear and hatred as wrong and unacceptable. But the greatest threat to our civilization is not some hate-filled person or persons that often make the headline news, shock and embarrass us for awhile, and we soon forget what or why it happened. The real monster threatening our moral and spiritual power is the ego's need to blame others for our shortcomings.
Nationalism can take many forms, whether it involves religion, politics, race or sports. The problem arises when we allow the evils of self-righteousness, superiority, ignorance, hatred and intolerance to influence our thinking and poison our relationships.
In the midst of this malignant and seductive blame game surrounding all our scandals and atrocities in this country and abroad, we have become pathologically blind and numb to our own insidious hatreds and fears. More often than not, we end up contributing to the very madness we abhor.
Let me be clear: I don't believe there's anyone who don't want peace on some level of mind, because we were created in the "image and likeness of God" which is love. However, there is definitely something else in human beings that want drama and war. We all share the problem and solution, no exception.
You may not know this to be the truth until you are caught in a situation that pushes your buttons hard enough. All of us have felt that force that rise up inside during such times; its called fear, masked by anger, hostility and sometimes, hatred. This "something" wants to assert its identity at all cost, because it would rather be right than at peace.
To most people, its obvious that this is the level extremists and hate-mongers operate on all of the time. The lesson we have yet to learn is, ordinary people also operate in the same way, but to a lesser extent. The good new is, once we truly make this connection, there will be less incentive to judge, blame and accuse.
Ultimately, we will stop fueling the hatred of those who seek to destroy us. We will understand that the roots of evil cannot be "defeated" as some claim; darkness can only be overcome with light.
Harold Lott is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist.