For the sake of this country's multiethnic democracy, I want Republicans to do better among nonwhite voters. A society where ethnicity defines the political parties is doomed to disaster. The political process becomes a zero-sum game where each ethnic group fights for its share of the pie. Any commitment to a broader common good is lost, as is any sense that citizens of different backgrounds can come together and feel a strong patriotic bond.
What does it feel like to go insane and not know why? In her memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, author Susannah Cahalan describes what it is like in terrifying detail: “My body continued to stiffen as I inhaled repeatedly, with no exhale. Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth.… This moment, my first serious blackout, marked the line between sanity and insanity. Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming weeks, I would never again be the same person. This was the start of the dark period of my illness, as I began an existence in purgatory between the real world and a cloudy, fictitious realm made up of hallucinations and paranoia.”
After protracted, months-long negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia recently agreed to a compromise on sovereignty and autonomy that would end two decades of conflict. In extinguishing the last embers of war in what was Yugoslavia — the volatile, ethnically divided nation where the assassination of an Austrian archduke launched World War I, and where civil war throughout the nineties led to ethnic cleansing and other atrocities — Europe is nearing the end of its long journey to overcome its tribal enmities and build a cohesive, peaceful civilization.
These hopeful developments overseas have been on my mind recently. This semester, I've been teaching a course on the debate within the West over human nature: What are we? What can we be? Why do we act the way we do?
Emily Bazelon began reading about the way young people treat each other online in the most apt location: the Internet. The mother of two adolescent sons, Bazelon was interested in how using technology to bully peers made the experience different for contemporary youth. She was deeply curious about how her own children’s lives were affected by bullying, and decided to write a book to aid a generation of parents who grew up without social media or texting.
Prejudice can kill. George Zimmerman saw a young black male wearing a hoodie, and made a decision that reflected the dictionary definition of prejudice — a "preconceived judgment or opinion … An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge." Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator of a gated community in Sanford, Florida, didn't know Trayvon Martin, the teenager he followed. Martin didn't do anything specific that would have been suspicious to an unprejudiced observer. He was unarmed and gave no indication that he harbored criminal intent of any kind. Zimmerman simply prejudged him. And it cost Martin — a seventeen-year-old out to buy some Skittles — his life.
Prejudice killed Trayvon Martin. But there are other, less obvious forms of prejudice, ones that even those of us who would rightly condemn a man like Zimmerman might be tempted to practice and justify.