2010 was not a great year if you were Muslim, Gay, or Hispanic. Massive protests against the construction of Muslim places of worship and community centers, discriminatory legislation singling out Hispanic communities in Arizona, and increased harassment and targeting of Gay Americans often resulting in tragic suicides were among the highlights of what it meant to be a member of these communities in 2010. Eboo Patel’s wonderful piece on tolerance in America gave me the inspiration to reflect on this issue in 2010 a year in which hate reigned supreme and diversity was on the defense. We must reflect on what went wrong in 2010 or we will make the same mistakes in 2011.
Although Americans saw a spike in intolerant discourse in 2010, we did witness positive actions. We saw Americans coming together to promote tolerance avoiding Qur’an burnings, fighting back against discriminatory legislation, and repealing discriminatory policies. We saw many Americans coming together to fight for equal rights, diversity, and freedom. There were many advances in the promotion of tolerance in America and we should celebrate those who stood up for equality, even though there is still work to do.
In order to prevent intolerance and discrimination from gaining ground in 2011, like a cancer we have to cut it off at the source. I believe that the surge of intolerance that spread across the nation like wildfire in 2010 coincides with the rise of the “political” group known as the Tea Party.
This very active and vocal group of extremely far Right Republican voters and activists came into power unified and monolithic in their political beliefs and ideology, and their rejection of a diverse America fueled their rage. Tea Party members tend to be from the least ethnically, socially, and religiously diverse populations in America and tend to vote primarily for Republican candidates.
This group was started, supported, and given a platform on major media outlets, and whenever we witnessed hostile discourse concerning policies affecting diverse groups of Americans, Tea Party supporters were involved. Tea Party candidates and supporters were at the forefront of every major discussion involving Muslims, Gays, or Hispanics in 2010 resulting in some of the most vile and bigoted discourse to air in the national media in decades. I believe that if this group was not given the platform that they were given, the level of intolerance wouldn’t have been so high.
Why is this important?
Whenever you have a monolithic group whose views are diametrically opposed to those different from themselves, and this group is given national prominence, support, and funding, then it’s only a matter of time before their will is established and enforced among the general populace. Whether is was the debate about Park 51 in Manhattan, Immigration Law in Arizona, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in Congress, wherever the Tea Party and their supporters were given a platform, they capitalized on these issues as political and ideological opportunities. Tea Party politicians eagerly fed off of Tea Party “frustration” and in many cases it resulted in legislative victories and won elections in November.
I find it no coincidence that the rise of the Tea Party also resulted in the rise of intolerance in America in 2010. If we are to learn from this year and avoid similar consequences in 2011, Muslim, Gay, Hispanic, and other diverse communities will have to work together in the spirit of tolerance. We have to realize if we are apathetic toward the challenges facing one group different from our own, we only risk allowing those same challenges to visit our group at a later time. If we allow the voices of exclusion to gain the upper hand in the national discourse, we should not be surprised the next time discriminatory legislation and policy is put in place. In 2011 we are now faced with a legislative body placed into power on a tide of intolerance, if we are to fight back; we have to be committed to working together. Alone we are just various individual communities, together we represent the diverse and true face of what makes America great. Now is the time to bring our voices and causes together, so that in the future as we embark on the close of another year, we can remember 2011 as the year that America’s highest values and truths were restored.