by Judy Ferro
Grandmother Willmorth was born in Texas a decade after the Civil War and absorbed the prejudices of the region before moving north to Ellensburg and, later, Nampa. Even as she refused to justify treating anyone poorly, she regarded blacks as inferiors.
In her 80s, she made an about face.
The Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s brought images of Southern deputies using dogs and cattle prods to force black children away from school house doors to our 11-inch black and white TV.
Grandma paced as she and watched the screen. Then, her voice steely, she said, “If whites are so superior, I sure wish they’d act it,” and left the room.
She never said a prejudiced word again. I think she was even disappointed once to learn I wasn’t “dating” a black friend.
Over and over the current controversy concerning Syrian refugees has reminded me of Grandmother. Any doubt how she would have stood on this issue vanishes when I visit Facebook. Postings by nieces and nephews, by cousins, and by their children and grandchildren speak against fear and for acceptance.
I am thankful for family and shared values.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—the Golden Rule of Christianity and many of the world’s religions–is at the core of those values.
The rule has no addendum saying except when you are fearful.
Treat others as you want to be treated. That simplifies a lot of today’s issues.
A man from Poland once asked how I felt about illegal Mexican immigrants. I said I know if I were farming a small plot of land and foreign countries dumped food so cheap that I could no longer care for my family that I’d do whatever I could for them.
Romauld repeated the question—how did I feel about illegal Mexican immigrants? I explained that I could not condemn another for doing what I would do if in the same position. Apparently, he knew others—American or Polish or both?—who didn’t share that value.
I know that problems surround the acceptance of refugees. We don’t have enough jobs. Government agencies and charities are strained for funds. Where will we ever get enough Arabic interpreters?
Americans, however, are problem solvers. It’s not something we expect only from an elite—we don’t even know the names of the GIs that came up with palletizing freight during the Berlin embargo. They needed to unload planes in 90 seconds or less and found a way.
But there are other problems with refugees, ones that have to do with fear. How many Moslems can our country absorb without changing fundamentally? And will some of these people turn on us?
The 1960 nomination of John F. Kennedy for president opened up questions about Catholicism that Americans hadn’t addressed since 1928. Could we entrust our government to a man who viewed a foreign Pope as infallible? Would he outlaw divorce or give preference to Catholics throughout his administration or hand government monies over to the Vatican?
And, when I was at college, a campus fraternity was kicked out of its national for accepting two Jewish members. Judaism was seen as a major threat to shared values.
Somehow—through decades–we found common ground and moved beyond these fears. Many of today’s citizens don’t understand that these conflicts once aroused intense feelings.
Fear is not a core American value.
Trust in the goodness of mankind and in a better future is.