The only thing necessary for the triumph (of evil) is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke
We teach our children how injustice during Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South required acceptance by a silent majority. Safely separated from those eras, we condemn that majority’s cowardice and complicity. Yet we often fail to confront the acts of hate in our own backyard, thinking they have nothing to do with us.
Clearly, racist antagonism and bigotry is repugnant to most of us here on the Central Coast. But what are we to do about it? Our response to hate can either feed it or starve it. A steady drumbeat of cruel actions in our county suggests we’re not doing enough. Hate is alive and well on the Central Coast, and we call upon the majority to stand up to it.
This past Sept. 11, a local high school student found a note slipped into her locker. The anonymous author (signed only “the American people”) proclaimed that s/he would celebrate her death. The rambling, profanity-laced letter blamed her for the Sept. 11 attacks, subsequent wars and military deaths. The author hurled insult after insult at her and her family, calling upon her to “fall off the face of the earth,” “leave the country,” “go die in a hole,” and “kill yourself.”
As a Muslim American, she’s hardly a stranger to personal attacks by bigots. She and her family have been called “terrorists,” harassed at school and experienced vandalism directed against them. She had considered not attending school that day, if not for an important test. But this incident went far beyond anything she’d experienced. Her family considered pulling her out of school for her safety. While many of her friends and teachers rallied around her in support, she remains fearful and unsure of whom she can trust.
This isn’t an isolated incident. In recent years, our county has seen its share of hate and intimidation. We’ve seen the Easter Day arson that burned a church to the ground in San Luis Obispo (2001). We’ve seen racist slurs, confederate flags and a noose openly displayed at Cal Poly’s Crops House (2008).
In 2009, we lost a beautiful young Paso Robles High School student, who committed suicide after weeks of cruel bullying. We’ve witnessed swastikas scratched into the door of a synagogue in Atascadero (2010). We’ve seen swastikas and racist vandalism at Mesa Middle School and repeated anti-gay graffiti on a house in Cambria (2011). We’ve endured a cross burning in Arroyo Grande outside a black teen’s window (2011). Earlier this year, we witnessed extensive vandalism and personal threats directed at a local educator because of her sexual orientation. And Cal Poly saw more anti-gay graffiti during Open House weekend this year.
Local teens are reporting a surge in cyber-bullying on social media, reflecting a disturbing national trend that has resulted in too much death and suffering. Even more bullying and intimidation is taking place under the radar in the form of online bullying and daily, subtle harassment of individuals based on their race, creed, nationality and lifestyle.
Our shock and outrage at these cowardly acts of intimidation must move beyond attempts to find the guilty parties and bring them to justice. These actions target and terrorize not just individuals but entire communities. Hate has everything to do with us, because bigots and bullies succeed in a culture of fear, mistrust and silence. Long ago, William Shakespeare wrote, “We hate that which we often fear.” We need to overcome our fears and differences. Silence and inaction encourage more fear and hate. We need to speak up in defense of the victims and their families, whose lives are shattered by such acts of hate.
Hate ends when we stand up to every racist act, homophobic slur and hateful attack by saying, collectively, “Not in our school. Not in our town.” We must pledge ourselves to the promotion of diversity and acceptance. Hate ends when we actively embrace the richness of different races, backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles. The lives we save may be our own.
Geoffrey Land is a teacher at Paso Robles High School. This also was submitted by Randy Nelson, principal; Danica Boggs, Associated Student Body president; Nicolette Jolicoeur, managing editor, Crimson News Magazine; Cameron Holt, Students Against Violence Everyone (SAVE) president; Hebat Elsayed, student; teachers Jeff Mount, Jeanne Neely and Geoffrey Land; Jennifer Bedrosian, ASB/Leadership director and teacher; Marcy Goodnow, ASB/Leadership director and teacher; Xelina Rojas, counselor and SAVE adviser; Mark Bradford, teacher and adviser for Friday Night Live, and Dan Sharon, assistant principal.