A couple of weeks ago, I received a surprise text from my cousin, Kathy, who was in Manhattan chaperoning her daughter’s choir. She only had a couple of hours of free time that evening and was hoping that I might be available to get together. Fortunately, I was free and we made plans to meet up. I don’t see Kathy often but when I do, I always enjoy her company.
I met her and a friend in Little Italy and we proceeded to take a stroll through the neighborhood catching each other up on our respective lives and the lives of our families. We found a small restaurant where we ordered drinks. Our conversation turned to the state of the country and the seemingly increased presence of anger, animosity, and hatred.
She’s an 8th grade teacher--definitely a tough year for students and probably the worst year of my school career! Anyway, she commented that more than ever before, she witnessed higher levels of disrespect and disobedience among a number of her students. It’s as if their “social” filter had been removed and these particular students felt entitled to freely express some rather extreme and disturbing opinions. It was unsettling and mind-boggling to all three of us, and this led to a broader conversation about our culture, and how the divide between political affiliations, races, economic social strata, etc. appears to have widened exponentially since the election.
A new Quinnipiac poll has found that 63% of American voters believe the level of hatred and bias against minority groups in the U.S. has increased since Trump became president.
The poll also found that perceived levels of anti-Semitism increased significantly in the last month. Seventy percent of American voters felt bias against Jewish people was "very" or "somewhat" serious, a sharp increase from 49% in a February 8 poll.
In an article written by the Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, she lists five factors that she feels are contributing to this recent rise of a culture of hate. With sincere apologies to her, I’ve combined two of her points into one. So, to paraphrase, she writes, “The smaller our boundaries, whether those boundaries are educational, social, religious, financial and/or geographical, the higher the fear of the outsider, the ‘other.’ This eventually lowers our chances of eliminating prejudice.”
The “other” can be anyone--someone of a different religion, race, socio-economic class, sexual orientation. The “other” could also be based on appearance, ability or lack of, intelligence or lack of--physically fit vs. overweight and out of shape, attractive vs. unattractive... Just look at the increase in bullying in schools and you get the idea.
Paraphrasing Thomas again, “A smaller world in any area (us and them) gives inadequate experience to learn the habits that welcome people outside our own group. Read stories of those who managed to leave communities with high walls--almost without fail, people who leave will say they were taught that everyone outside their group was evil and out to destroy them.” If we only surround ourselves with people who are just like us, we never learn tolerance and acceptance of ideas and lifestyles different from our own. Eventually, we begin to think the right way--the only way--is our way, and anyone with an opposing thought is just plain wrong.
The current divide between Democrats and Republicans is a clear example of this. No longer are we looking for common ground. The motto of the day appears to be, “It’s our way or the highway.” Not that our opposing parties haven’t had significant differences in the past, but this new era is fostering an escalation of emotion, fury, and polarization. The dividing lines have been drawn, and each group is emboldened by the mass numbers of like-minded folk.
But the scariest part of this is not just the divide and unwillingness to find a way to work together, it’s the proliferation of hate speech and hate crimes. It’s as if Trump’s election has given some of his supporters a license to hate, a validation that they are right and anyone different from them is, not only wrong, but should be deported, jailed, or killed.
Political correctness has gone out the window and with it any stigmatization for saying and doing hateful things. The rhetoric is nothing new, but what is new is the extent of hate speech and hateful actions against women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, Muslims, Jews or just about anyone who is an “other.” There is reason to be afraid; it can happen here, and is happening here.
This is unacceptable, and must be corrected. America is a land of immigrants, it’s a land of opportunity, a land of equality, and land of freedom. We are a nation of hopes and dreams and a belief in the pursuit of happiness — for ALL. As Emma Lazarus wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” These words are not sentimental hogwash, they are an American oath and promise of a better life.
It is up to each and every one of us to stand up against those who spread hate and violence. This is my line in the sand. I will stand for respect, I will stand for tolerance, I will stand for those who can’t stand for themselves. It’s time to stop this culture of hate dead in its tracks.
TIME TO DINE: Cooking for Joan
This week’s recipe is in honor of the Cajun and Creole folk who were early immigrants in America. Both groups made Jambalaya, and this version is a melding of the two styles. I make this for large groups because it’s simple, inexpensive, not too time-consuming, and makes plenty to go around. My first dinner in the Fire Island Sail Walk share house was supposed to be for 10 guests. I pulled out my trusty Jambalaya recipe and was set to go. However, as the day went by, the count got higher and higher, eventually stopping at 21. Fortunately, this is an easily expandable recipe, so the day was saved. I won a lot of points with my share mates that night!
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 40 min | Makes: 6 to 8 servings | Difficulty: Easy
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 pound hot sausage raw or hard sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille, sliced
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 diced celery stack
• 1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
• 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1 16 oz can stewed tomatoes
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
• 1 teaspoons oregano
• 1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
• 3 cups chicken stock, or water
• 2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
• 1 bay leaves
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 6 to 8 dashes hot sauce or sriracha
• 1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
• 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
• 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 pound medium shrimp, deveined, tail on (20 to 24 count)
• lemon slices
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat, add the hot sausage or kielbasa and saute for 5 minutes, until browned.
Remove the kielbasa to a bowl, and set aside if using hard sausage. If using raw leave in the pot.
Add the butter, onion, celery and peppers to the same pot and saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
Create a clear circle in the vegetables and brown the tomato paste for 2 minutes
Add stewed tomato, garlic, cayenne, oregano, thyme and cook until all the vegetables and herbs are blended well.
Add the stock and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the rice, (and add the hard sausage), bay leaves, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup of the scallions, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the lemon juice and the shrimp, and stir well.
Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow the jambalaya steam, for 3 to 5 minutes to cook the shrimp. Be careful not to overcook it.
Garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions and 1/2 cup parsley, lemon slices, and a dash of hot sauce or sriracha, if desired.