I believe my actual quote was "promoting acceptance and tolerance of ethnic and racial differences."
Prejudice towards "the other" and fear of "the unknown" is a trait common to all humans. In fact, it may have contributed to our survival.
Certain behaviors, characteristics and attitudes I may find abhorrent because of my upbringing.
Like taking a bottle of water to the WC in spite of the availability of toilet tissue, or an individual’s preference for natural body odor in spite of the availability of deodorant.
My dislike, or lack of understanding of these cultural traits however, does not make me guilty of racism as I am able to distinguish between the behavior and the person. We all practice tolerance in our daily lives, since no two people, even twins, are identical in every facet of their being. Moreover, tolerance leads to acceptance.
At the local and community level, in schools, community centers and playgrounds across the country, exposure to cultural differences should be the driving force behind every endeavor. In my time, the presentations of “the best of a village” included representations from every ethnicity. It is where I gained my first exposure to Shango, stick fighting and other aspects of African culture. It was where I learned the similarities between Hinduism and Christianity. Picked-up a few Hindi words, and gained an appreciation for Asian music. Today, in some areas, no community centers exist and the locals passively accept the fact that knowledge of their neighbor is derived from media soundbites and headlines.
My experience in the US has taught me that one can live for years within inches of another human being and know absolutely nothing about them. Yet, having lived abroad, going on three decades, I can still remember every family who lived, not only on my street, but also in practically the entire town. Television was relatively new back then and the radio was limited to two frequencies.
There is a lot of truth in Mr. Shah’s words. Our differences are amplified and our common heritage restrained because of the political ambitions and amoral character of a few. Those of us, who know better, with very few exceptions, sit on our hands and hold our tongues.
Thirty to forty years ago we were not perfect and we will never be, however, we were a civil society.
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