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The Color of Fear

Tragedy should bring us closer together

by Attica Scott

"America may not be the best nation on earth, but it has conceived loftier ideals and dreamed higher dreams than any other nation. America is a heterogeneous nation of many different people of different races, religions, and creeds. Should this experiment go forth and prosper, we will have offered humans a new way to look at life; should it fail, we will simply go the way of all failed civilizations."
—Nikki Giovanni, 1993

Black. Hispanic. Indian. African-American. Native American. American Indian. Arab Americans. Latino. White. Whatever we are called, we must join hands as Americans in unity to celebrate this great nation.

The recent act of terrorism on American soil should be a wake-up call for all of us. How do we stand together in solidarity at a time like this? We must be willing to move beyond our differences. Some of our differences are indeed monumental, but not insurmountable. Our differences continue to divide us instead of bringing us together to share and to learn and to appreciate the diversity that is Knoxville.

English-only. Racial profiling. Lynchings. Internment camps. Reservations. Reparations. Hate crimes. Discrimination.

Will this tragedy galvanize the Knoxville community to work together for change? Or will we quickly return to our "normal" way of life: Americans hating Americans because of racial, religious, socioeconomic, sexual—and on and on—differences? If this is indeed what turns out to be the case, then we will have learned nothing from our shared tragedy. And in our community, that will be one of the biggest losses.

On a national level, some leaders have said that America's superiority complex—from our bombing in Vieques to our lack of involvement in the World Conference Against Racism—and our poor foreign policies and international relationships have led to this tragedy. This makes me think of the comments of Malcolm X when President Kennedy was assassinated by a fellow American: the chickens have come home to roost.

While some may feel this way nationally, let's not lose sight of the fact that right here at home in Knoxville we have deplorable race relations, religious intolerance, and intolerance of many kinds for that matter. Today, we do not need this kind of thinking or these kinds of words.

I would venture to say that many of us are wrestling with various levels of fear right now. As Americans, or people currently living in America, we realize our vulnerability. That's a scary thought.

Some ethnic groups are fearing for their safety because of retaliation from angry Knoxvillians. Students on our largest campus of higher education, where you would expect a higher level of understanding, are reporting being attacked because they "look" a certain way and some because they are Arab or Muslim. Let's not misplace our fear and anger on innocent brothers and sisters who have also experienced loss.

Fortunately, there are many good people in Knoxville, of all walks of life, who are embracing one another and being supportive of one another. I challenge all of us to follow suit.

Although we continue to be provided with hard data from the United States Census 2000 that tells us we have growing communities of color and more gays and lesbians, we are shrinking in our ability to acknowledge and accept. Maybe, just maybe, this tragedy will force us to talk about what makes us different, yet the same.

As I watch television and see people of different cultures pull together to send aid to New York and to clean up the damage that has been left, I realize what potential exists for Knoxville to be a city that truly reflects the diversity of its people. But there is too much fear and that fear holds us back.

September 20, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 38
© 2001 Metro Pulse