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When It Comes to Bigotry, Being a Bystander's Not an Option

April 27, 2011 By:
Barry Morrison
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Illustration by William Brown

A Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations report earlier this year documented frequent, widespread ethnic and racial violence in our schools. One of the incidents cited -- an attack on Asian and African-American students at South Philadelphia High School -- has attracted national headlines and underscores the vulnerability of newer immigrant populations in our schools and in our communities as a whole.

Also receiving national attention has been the brutal murder of a Mexican immigrant by white high school football players in Shenandoah, a former mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. Several weeks ago, offensive messages, including swastikas and ethnic slurs, were painted on a Jewish family's suburban Philadelphia home.

And the mother of a high school teenager who hanged herself as a result of persistent cyberbullying is currently visiting Philadelphia-area schools to talk about the tragic consequences of bullying.

These examples are representative of the hate and complacency with violence that plague our schools and our nation. At the same time, xenophobia, bigotry and prejudice have become entrenched in public discourse.

The commemoration this week of Yom Hashoah is a good time to consider the seriousness of these trends, as well as what we can do to counter them.

As an organization devoted to fighting anti-Semitism, hatred, and violence, the Anti-Defamation League grapples with hateful incidents every day, a large percent of which do not attract public attention. We recognize these incidents as the great misfortunes that they are, but we also realize that, with the support of devoted, compassionate individuals, these unfortunate episodes can be turned into opportunities to learn, to improve our responses and inspire our community to stand up to and confront bigotry and prejudice in all their forms.

We know the power of words, and recognize the effect of actions. Change starts with an idea that finds its voice and culminates in action. We appeal to members of our community, especially now when they can draw inspiration from the timely lessons of the Holocaust, to come forward to fight hatred, to put their feet to the ground, to walk together, to make a statement against prejudice and bigotry, and to work to promote a world where diversity is accepted and embraced.

Being a bystander is not an option when so many of the incidents mentioned above and others occur in our own city, affect our community, and harm us all in ways we do not appreciate and cannot begin to fathom. We claim that "Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love." This phrase need not be a static or hollow concept; rather, it should be a theme that guides our actions every day.

We can take pride in Philadelphia as the birthplace of American democracy, and as a city with a history of acceptance and diversity. We have talked the talk; now it is time to walk the walk. With each step, we will strengthen our commitment to fighting hatred, bigotry and prejudice.With each step, we will embrace diversity.

We do this for ourselves, for our children and for their future. We do this to honor those who preceded us, and those whose loss we remember this week. And in two weeks, on Sunday, May 15, we can give concrete expression to these convictions by participating in ADL's "Walk Against Hate," when we can come together with people of all backgrounds and ages to take a stand.

Barry Morrison is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. For more information about the walk, go to: www.WALKAgainstHate.org.

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