Seeing with different eyes

Recently, a group of mostly Mexican workers charged that the operators of a New Jersey bargain retail chain treated them “like animals,” locking them in unopened stores overnight and failing to pay fair wages. We don't see this sort of problem every day, so it must not happen every day, right? Wrong.

Racism in many forms is rampant in America. People are often mistreated because of their color.

As we celebrate Civil Rights this month, it's important to remember that this example reflects the problem: unfair work conditions, inequitable pay and worse—not hiring on the basis of race. Fairness is what President Abraham Lincoln fought for.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…” (Abraham Lincoln)

During the last several Alaska Civil Rights Day celebrations at UAA, speakers have tried to educate interested listeners about the importance of seeing with different eyes. They say it is simply not enough to feel good about the progress we've made.

Still, common responses by many whites to the plights of Alaska Native, Native American and African American people, among many other groups of color, are that they just need to “get a job” and that they are “weak.” Other responses are even worse. Darwinism and the theory of natural selection, where the cream basically rises to the top while other races die out, is still acceptable in America and even Alaska.

The strong overpowering the weak is a story that history books expound and readers buy. They don't only believe the stories, though. They believe in the idea that letting only the strongest survive is best, regardless of the cultural losses.

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Don't buy this excuse for racism. What we should be doing is encouraging acceptance and fostering others to rise to the top. Sure, it might take work and it might feel funny at first in such a competitive world to actually help another attain your own degree of success, but the rewards are far from small. You get to see that we all want the same things and that we are all more alike than different.

Many people attend Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrations at this time of the year. That's great. But do something else – something difficult. Imagine that you sit at a table of people of all races in America. Imagine that you belong to whatever you consider to be the weakest race. Study that race — its history and its people — from different sources of information. Imagine that you are studying your own people. Maybe then, you too will be able to see with different eyes.

Perhaps, after trying this, you will make different choices, treat others differently and contribute to the creation of a world more like the one that Dr. King and President Lincoln envisioned.