I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a town of 12,000 plus people. Those of us who live here love the glorious hiking, skiing, fishing, swimming, in other words: the good life. We are a sterling community. We have a local newspaper, Steamboat Today, which has won awards, community theater, dance groups, concerts, even opera and a state of the arts library whose bibliognosts invite prominent authors to talk to us. And yet, here and there, not more than in other communities, children and occasional adults too, have to be comforted with the old adage, …sticks and stones …. One black child, adopted by a caring woman, who sent him to a local day camp, was called a nigger. An attentive librarian who planned a program honoring the late James Baldwin, the famous black writer, confided that when the program was announced there were, before the event, some brief racist comments about her choice. Nothing to worry about. --Maybe.
I have an acquaintance who is a native of North Dakota and now a Coloradoan. During a visit she told me that her cousin had married a Jewish woman. This North Dakotan is for various reasons a lapsed Catholic, but feels by nature spiritual. She was ready to accept the Jewish woman into her Christian family. After this Jewish newlywed had two children, she was not coping in the house. Everything was a mess. Garbage was not thrown out. Clutter was everywhere. The mother was obviously suffering from post-partum depression. She was also, according to my friend, afraid to take the children to a doctor even when they had ear aches. Such a fear may sometimes be an indication of having experienced child abuse. Obviously, a counselor is needed here. My acquaintance diagnosed it as a Jewish American Princess, an implication of Jews not knowing how to use their money. If she hadn’t been raised Jewish this would not have happened. Harmless words?--Maybe.
Unquestionably each reader of this article will think of incidents he or she has experienced or has heard of. The Muslims will note the fear of being labeled Jihadist and their neighbors are thinking of reasons not to assume another 2013 Boston Marathon. Black American young men look over their shoulder, wary of law enforcers who hassle mistakenly.
Steven K. Baum, PhD, a psychologist and genocide scholar, author of The Psychology of Genocide (Cambridge University Press 2008), explains, “Sociologists separate out bigotry by way of incitement--those who basically are name callers but would never shoot or harm another person, and those who are violent offenders inflicting beatings, stabbings and shootings.
“Racists are angry folk who justify their motives through rationalizations such as ‘the betterment of the society.’ Name calling by non-violent people, (he’s a nigger, kike, looks like a Jihadist), creates a mindset and gives license to those who have no inhibitions about inflicting serious harm.”
The sticks and stones adage is wrong. Words do in fact hurt and sometimes kill. Dr. Baum points out, “Name calling dehumanizes the intended victim group and ignites the most primitive responses of those who are willing to show their anger with guns and fists. On a good day, social group differences may be nothing more than an ethnic joke. On a bad day, such ideas are accepted as true, ignoring the original intent of the name calling.”
Edith Lynn Beer is a seasoned journalist who covers news in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.