One advantage of being middle aged is that fewer and fewer things shock me. I am no longer surprised when I hear a couple is separating or divorcing. I'm old enough to know that terrible illnesses too often randomly strike otherwise healthy people. Political scandals, unfortunately, have become ho hum. This past year started and ended with the biggest eye openers I've had in a long time: the degree to which "isms" -- racism, sexism and anti-Semitism -- remain in our country. I'm not Pollyanna-ish, and certainly don't consider myself ill informed or naive. Yet, I was unprepared for the extent and depth of racism that followed the swearing in of our first African American President in January 2009. The "Birthers," those blatant racists whose vision is apparently impaired when viewing President Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate, could not accept the reality that the President's pigmentation did not match the exterior of that big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. That they even demanded proof of his "authenticity" was in and of itself racist. Never have I seen such unabashed, unapologetic "he's-not-one-of-us" public outcries about any other President.
The Birther movement picked up steam along the way, leading to all sorts of variations, eventually landing with the Teabaggers. These right wingers gather to "demand their country back." From whom? From you-know-who in the White House. Their rhetoric couldn't be based on facts, because President Obama has hardly acted in a leftist way. In fact, as much as I adore our President, he is not liberal enough for me! Unlike me, he does not support full marriage equality for gay couples. He also decided to send more troops to Afghanistan, a war that I believe should end sooner rather than later. If you didn't know anything about President Obama's record and only listened to the Teabaggers and their cable TV buddies, you would think he was an extreme leftist steering this country into becoming one giant commune. Too many of the Teabaggers' posters, such as "Go Back to Kenya," give away their less than subtle sentiment.
Mid-year brought to the fore the anti-Hispanic sentiment centered around Sonia Sotomayor's nomination and eventual confirmation as the first Hispanic Justice on the United States Supreme Court. All nominated judges' records are appropriately examined, and not everyone is going to agree with every decision a judge has made. Given Justice Sotomayor's many years on the bench, there were bound to be decisions about which serious, informed people would disagree. What made the Senate confirmation hearings racist and sexist was the condescending over-focus on her past experience with a Hispanic group and her "wise Latina" comment. Those conservative white male Senators were concerned that she would be biased in favor of Hispanics over others, i.e., Caucasians. Apparently, only minority groups and women are vulnerable to such biased leanings; white men, according to these Senators, are open minded and non-prejudiced. Ironic doesn't even begin to describe this state of affairs.
The year ended, literally on December 31, with a heated online exchange between a supposed political liberal and myself about an anti-Semitic poll this person was publicizing. The poll asked people to vote on whether they think Jews have too much power in the United States. (Fact: Jews comprise a mere 1.5% of the U.S. population) This person proudly voted "yes." I was appalled, as were other people. This person couldn't seem to comprehend that the mere existence of such a poll was anti-Semitic, regardless of the vote tally, and was being used to spread disdain for Jewish people, to stir up anti-Jewish rage that is, sadly, all too familiar to Jewish people worldwide.
Now, I am not surprised that anti-Semitism is pervasive. What surprised me was this person was known by me and others to be a Progressive, someone who I thought was working to heal the world by seeing our common humanity. The shock was the unenlightened perspective of "us v. them," of seeing all Jewish people as the same. I expect this "ism" from Teabaggers and, sadly, certain members of Congress. That it came from a self-identified Progressive threw me. A new can of worms opened up: how many other closet anti-Semites are there?
Fortunately, society has changed tremendously in the past half century. After all, we do have a black President, a (wise) Latina Supreme Court Justice, and Jewish people in all sectors of society. These are not trivial. We have come a long way, baby.
But I learned in 2009 just how far we still have to go. As a true blue Progressive, I will continue my efforts to raise up all of humankind, not just "my people" or certain hand picked groups. I will continue to speak out against "isms" wherever they appear and in whatever form they take. I hope you'll join me.