I was born and raised in Miami, FL. It was the place then of beautiful beaches, sunshine, and separate water fountains and bathrooms for who we called "Negros" or "colored" back then.
My parents were New Yorkers who left NY and moved to Miami, seeking better work opportunities. However, they brought something with them that was invaluable. They brought the ethics of love and acceptance for everyone. They had been active in the civil rights movements in NY and continued that in my youth. Now, I wasn't born yet. My mother was pregnant with me when they moved. Eventually, I popped out. I had no distinctions of "difference." I did, however, experience many episodes that gave me pause, elicited fear, and taught me interesting lessons about acceptance, and definitely about prejudice.
We had friends of all colors and nationalities. My parents made sure of that. No one was exempt from visiting us and sometimes there were interesting "meetings" in our house.
As I grew, I had little understanding of what the hubbub was about people being of different colors or different in any other ways (except male and female).
As I matured, became a teenager and then a college student, I began to look around and saw a much bigger picture.
My very worst experience is worth noting. It was the summer between high school and college. My neighbor (a girl of my age) and I were playing Monopoly every day on her screened-in porch. It was a continuation game from day to day. One day, we heard an interruption on the radio announcing that the Civil Rights Amendment had just passed. I was excited and yelled, "Yippee!" My friend looked (or shall I say glared) at me and said, "Maybe you want to eat and sleep with THEM, but I sure don't." I remember my eyes filling with tears and then running down my cheeks. I was shocked that she could be so hateful... and I thought we were friends.
My action that day, I'll never forget, was to stand up, leave her house and never go back. I went home and cried to my mother, who then felt compelled to speak of prejudice in a more open manner. Although we stayed neighbors for quite awhile, we were never friends again. Finally, they moved away.
That always stayed with me... not just for the hatred, but for how it impacted me as a girl growing up Jewish. I wondered, did she hate Jews too? Did she/they (her whole family) hate anyone who was different? How could they? Although over 18, an adult, I just didn't understand. Remember, I was brought up to accept everyone. It was outside my frame of reference still at that time.
Then, I experienced a few scenarios of feeling personally discriminated against by people who didn't like Jewish people. I'll spare the details, but things about Jews having "horns on their heads," etc.
I bring all this up because now, in this day and age, and in this political and world climate, for the first time since my youth, I feel that same creeping prejudice (we now call it bigotry) surrounding many of my family and beloved friends and people in general. Never before did I feel threatened in that way. I even feel threatened for having the political beliefs I have and for supporting the candidates I will be voting for. I'm cautious about discussing them.
I must also tell you that I grew up into a social worker, a psychotherapist. I worked to help the underdogs, I accepted anyone into my therapy practice that I thought I could help. I campaigned for candidates whose values were like mine and actually showed how much they believed in equality and fought for the rights of others. It's always been my mission and I've taken it to other levels as my career has shifted and grown.
As I listen to television and news these days, I'm disheartened, I'm fearful, and mostly I'm confounded about how we could revert back 60 years to the discrimination of that time. How could this happen?
I ask myself, how will this all turn out? How can I help people who feel downtrodden and scared, whether they be African-American, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, have different religions or sexual lifestyles, etc.? I can't change how others feel, but I can do what I can to be accepting and helpful to others.
My questions are: How did America revert so far? Where is all the hatred coming from now? And lastly, for those of us who are deeply empathetic, how do we cope with it? I wish I had these answers and hope to hear some of yours.
My final question and my call to action is this: What one thing (or more) will you do today and subsequent days, to make a difference in this issue?
Ann Fry, MSW, PCC is a former clinical social worker and for the past 20 years has been a Leadership Coach and a Professional Speaker. Having moved to Austin, TX in 1985, she then moved to NYC from 2006 - 2015. After experiencing breast cancer some years ago in NY, she returned to Austin late last year to live closer to her son. She continues to work for herself. She can be found at www.annfry.com