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GIG HARBOR, WASH.—In the aftermath of the murderous Tucson shootings, conservatives have been assiduously making the point that the shooter now in custody is suffering from mental illness, unconnected – unconnected, they insist – with any political ideology.

Yet what conservatives continue to avoid with equal assiduousness is connecting the dots, thus continuing to beg the vital question: that, while the shooter Jared Loughner very probably is mentally unbalanced, still his target was … a politician. It wasn’t his English teacher he went after; Loughner claims the government controls our grammar. His target was congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Tellingly, conservatives must sense this connection too, witness the rush to scrub official websites of incendiary expression (ex., “Reload”) in the hours after the Tucson shooting and their unified insistence since then on no connection between rhetoric and mayhem.

“Control” – specifically government control – is the core issue here, I think: the control that government is seen to exert, for good or ill, over our lives. Moderates and liberals tend to view government as a good, that of protector and mediator against the ravages of a dog-eat-dog capitalist economic system. Conservatives by contrast, especially since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, view government not as a solution, but as “the problem.”

More recently the far right, the tea party, has pressed its belief that government not only is bad, but worse: evil. Actually, “pressed” is too polite: At town halls held throughout 2009, they screamed about “Obamacare,” the spectre of government “take-over” of health care, and the wholly specious “death panels.” If you were in the audience, as I was, that anger stifled debate completely, and many of us grew uneasy at the lack of a security check at the door.

Health care is but one area conservatives fear will fall to government control. Financial regulation is another, as is the Grail inviolate: guns and Second Amendment rights. But the massacre in Tucson gives new reason to look to government to protect us from the increasingly lethal power of firearms. Yet word is already out in the political ether that renewing debate on gun control is out; the National Rifle Association, it’s alleged, won’t have it. Isn’t that, well, controlling?

“Evil,” “bad,” “government,” “control”: The sane mind can parse this brew. But in the unbalanced mind, such brew, stirred over time and over increasing heat, can become toxic and have who knows what effect? It is no stretch to see how, with too-easy access to guns, this brew, at the command to “reload,” becomes lethal and drives the deranged individual to target the most visible proponent of that over-controlling government: his member of Congress.

Do we really need a blue-ribbon commission to connect these dots?

Adding tragedy upon tragedy to such lethal eruption is the murderous toll on innocent bystanders.

President Barack Obama, in his stirring speech for the fallen in Tucson, fittingly avoided political point-making and focused instead on the merit of those gunned down and the heroism of staff and bystanders. In benediction, he invoked the memory of the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Green, saying he prayed we all would live up to the America she imagined we could be.

I do too, most fervently, and I write this not to point blame, but to help reframe the political debate that is now resuming. Contrary to conservatives’ controlling insistence, ideology does have consequences. And an ideology preaching that government is evil has a target – evil politicians. Such ideology, propelled by violent rhetoric, if gone unchecked, can devour itself. The right needs to check both ideology and rhetoric and, fair is fair, the left must modulate its rhetoric, too.

Can we do that? Early evidence is promising, with House Speaker John Boehner shifting from citing Obama for “job-killing” to “job-destroying” spending. Let us carry on in our grand American experiment of self-governance—using words not to wound, as Obama urged us in Tucson, but to heal.

Carla Seaquist, a Gig Harbor resident, is author of the book, “Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character.”

by Carla Lofberg Valenta

If the executive offices of the company where you work have the aspect of a “men’s club,” then it is not very likely that any “affirmative action” will originate from within the “club.” For it is the nature of organizations as well as individuals to develop comfortable and self-serving habits that, as long as they remain unchallenged, will justify themselves as the “right” way of doing things. Occasionally these habits are changed voluntarily; more often, pressure is required.

Even if your company has an equal employment opportunity (EEO) officer, the recruitment of women and minority groups and their promotion in more than token numbers to decision-making slots will not necessarily occur. Very often, the EEO officer is caught in the middle. He or she, appointed by management ostensibly to promote employee interests, is ultimately accountable to management.

Even if your company has an affirmative action plan (AAP) for the recruitment, promotion, and full “utilization” of women and minority groups, little or no action may have been taken. In the muzzy language of an AAP, goals are often generalized in broad terms and accountability is limited so vaguely as to be unenforceable.

Where can pressure originate to bring about change? Look to yourselves. You can form a pressure group—a caucus—that at the very least can act as a consciousness-raiser of your interests and at the most can serve as a catalyst for policy change within the company.

At the Brookings Institution, a research institution in Washington, D.C., we looked to ourselves and formed a women’s caucus, successfully. Following are some guidelines based on that experience.

Fortunately, legislation providing for equal opportunity in employment is already on the books, a result of the continuing civil rights drive begun in the 1960’s. That’s the good news. Now for the bad: Much remains to be done about enforcement of this legislation. In pressuring for equitable treatment, you should do more than appeal to management’s sense of justice and fair play. Cite legislation and then act on strategies outlined here that facilitate enforcement.

Prospects for success are brightest if your company has an affirmative action plan and an official responsible for its implementation. Employers having 50 or more employees and receiving $50,000 or more in annual federal funding are required by Revised Order No. 4 (administered by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance) to formulate a written AAP.

Briefly, such a plan consists of an analysis of the under- or over-representation within the company’s departments of women and minority groups and the procedures to rectify any imbalances. Furthermore, the employer is instructed to make every “good faith effort required to transform the programs from paper commitments to equal employment opportunity.”

If your company does have an AAP, employees forming a caucus are protected very generally by a provision in the Code of Federal Regulations governing federal subcontractors and their affirmative action responsibilities. That provision ensures that “no person intimidates, threatens, coerces, or discriminates against any individual for the purpose of interfering with the filing of a complaint, furnishing information, or assisting or participating in any manner in an investigation, compliance review, hearing, or any other activity related to the administration of the order or any other Federal, State or local laws requiring equal employment opportunity” [41 CFR 60-1.32 [1975]).

If your company has not been unionized but you and other employees are organizing for that purpose, you are protected by the National Labor Relations Act which cites as an unfair labor practice the dismissal or harassment of employees for their organizing activities.

On the other hand, if your company has not been unionized or has not been required to devise an AAP, then you are incurring considerable risk in forming a pressure group, because you have no specified statutory protection covering such an activity.

Now, let’s get organized. The life of a caucus breaks down into two general phases: 1) organizing the caucus itself, and 2) pursuing the group’s objectives. The following are broad strategies that apply to both phases of the process. Your company’s distinguishing features—its work, size, and organizational structure, as well as its singular culture and protocol—will require your adjusting and fine-tuning of the described strategies.

Phase I: Organizing the caucus

Forming a caucus is very serious business. It represents, in essence, a political act, because it takes power to change things and you are vying for a share of the power and the rights traditionally held by management. Since change rarely occurs without some friction, a caucus must be ready to apply pressure continuously, no matter how long it takes for change to occur and no matter how wearying the friction becomes. Or the group can lower its sights a bit and act primarily as a sensitizer of its constituents’ problems and interests by, for example, sponsoring a speakers series or maintaining a special-interest bulletin board, among other activities.

Whatever the purpose of the caucus, there must exist “just cause” for organizing it that will be wholeheartedly supported by women throughout your company over an indefinite period of time. To find out if there is legitimate cause, arrange a meeting—closed, if necessary—of a small group of women representing all departments in your company to discuss the possibility of forming a caucus.

It is a good idea to invite to this and future meetings a representative of a women’s organization or a member of the women’s caucus at another company who can advise on organizing strategies and who can bring fresh perspective to your situation. Keep these meetings confidential, since some women will feel uncomfortable talking about what until then they may have considered unthinkable. Ask the members of the group to get the reactions of their fellow employees to the idea of a caucus, and hold another meeting to report on them.

A positive reaction should lead to meetings to which all women in the company are invited. It is crucial that all women—no matter their age, race, status, or department—be made welcome. Otherwise, a group that was overlooked at the outset will be increasingly difficult to recruit as the organizing process builds up steam. A large group neglected by the caucus could be used against it by management in the classic tactic of divide and conquer.

Despite your best efforts, there will be some women hostile to a caucus, because of concern for job security or the feeling that the move for equality has come too late for them. Do not return the hostility. Let them know they are being represented, they are needed, and they are welcome.

Announce in advance a one—or two—item agenda. Make certain the problems of all departments and levels are discussed at some time. Also stick to the announced time frame, as support staffers must keep strict hours. The lunch hour is a good time to meet; otherwise annual leave must be taken, which will cut down attendance.

Arrange as many general meetings as seem necessary. Publicize them. Distribute a questionnaire designed to sound out the nature, range, and depth of complaints.

Since any change you might achieve may be modest and long in coming, it is important to discuss the measure of commitment the majority of women must bring to the caucus. Take a long-range view of your endeavor. It’s at this stage that a caucus can die stillborn.

When you are certain of the commitment of your group, then you can specify goals and design a program. The purpose of the caucus might be hiring, promotion, and full utilization of women and minorities; the program becomes cooperating with management to enforce the plan.

Until this stage, the group can function without a formal structure. But once your purpose and program have been defined, leaders must be elected who can assume responsibility for achieving your objectives and provide a contact point for management.

The composition of your steering committee is the key to your effectiveness. It should be a broadly representative body of between eight and twelve members. It should include luminaries as well as support staffers. Women ranking high in the company who serve on the steering committee will help legitimize the caucus in the eyes of management. If possible, elect such a woman as your chair.

Again, commitment should be stressed, since much time (off the job) will be spent meeting, researching, and writing by all members.

If chance favors the prepared mind, change absolutely requires it. All steering committee members must do their homework before meeting with management. This means studying the legislation, executive orders, federal regulations, and court decisions bearing on equal employment opportunity and affirmative action—for starters, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Revised Order No. 4.

Likewise, all members should be completely familiar with the company’s policies, current and earlier versions of its AAP, annual reports, the employee manual, and data on salary ranges, job descriptions, etc. If possible, some steering committee members should attend any of the EEO workshops that now abound.

Thorough preparation will establish your credibility with management; conversely, lack of preparation means the kiss of death to your cause or, possibly worse, its trivialization. Management will be waiting for you to trip up on the minute particulars so they won’t have to take seriously your larger goals. The burden of proof is on you, since it is you who are challenging both the status quo and management’s performance on affirmative action.

It is vital to defuse any personality conflicts and disagreements about strategies among yourselves. A united front bolstered by prepared minds will be perceived as formidable. Finally, it goes without saying that you must keep up the performance of your jobs. A lowering of job performance while engaged in caucus activities gives management legitimate cause for dismissing an individual who is both a challenger to the system and a poor worker.

Phase II: Pursuing your objectives

You are now ready to meet with management. First, request a meeting with your EEO officer. Set the agenda yourselves. Signal from the outset your cooperativeness by stating that you look forward to the meeting “not as an opportunity for confrontation but as an occasion for sharing the concerns we all have about optimal employment conditions here at XYZ Company.” Whatever the agenda—a discussion of the AAP itself is a practical way to start—follow up with a memo restating the points of general agreement and suggest a date for a future meeting.

Use the proceedings of your meetings with the EEO officer as the agenda for a meeting with top and mid-level management. Present documented examples of under- or over-representation of women and minorities at various levels in all departments (charts and graphs make the picture plainer), unfair treatment, and possible cases or patterns of discrimination. (At Brookings, even our anecdotes had to be documented: We cited who, when, and where a senior researcher was called “the prettiest economist I know.”)

In your meeting with management, ask about company practices and policy to see if they correspond to stated policy. Find out if different standards are applied to different groups. For example, ask what recruiting procedures are used. (One director at Brookings replied that he queried his colleagues in academia, “Who’s your bright young man this year?” The gasps from other directors as well as from us led the way to a discussion of the “old boy network” of recruitment.)

In all these sessions, you should come on not as “injustice collectors” but as management consultants who also are advocates. Point out that it is bad business not to make optimum use of all brainpower available to the company. Emphasizing business efficiency should strike a responsive chord.

Administrators may complain that affirmative action takes too much effort. This is where the steering committee can make itself indispensable. Help your administrators make every “good faith effort” to fulfill their affirmative action responsibilities by locating “nontraditional” sources of recruitment, such as minority directories or the women’s caucuses of professional associations. Search the professional literature for names of women and minorities as possible new hires or as possible appointments to your company’s policy-making board. In other words, make it impossible for management to say it could not find qualified women and minorities to fill vacant slots.

Don’t confuse movement with action. Management may make a flurry of apparently significant but actually empty gestures. For example, they may accept your offer to review the AAP. But do not be boondoggled into editing the plan when actually it may need to be rewritten. Then, rewrite it. Make periodic evaluations of your progress and keep all members of your caucus informed.

A word about style

They style in which you pursue your objectives has everything to do with eventually achieving them. The presence of a caucus will be perceived by some as a threat; lines will be drawn and sides taken. In order to keep the middle ground open for continuing exchanges, be cooperative with management, rather than combative. Again, make it known that you have the best interests of the company at heart.

Avoid becoming doctrinaire in both attitude and vocabulary; otherwise you’ll become boring and predictable when you need to be subtle and imaginative. Attack problems, not people. Keep a sense of humor. Be flexible and open-minded, particularly regarding the achievement of affirmative action goals. Think of goals as targets, not inflexible quotas. Keep in mind Talleyrand’s advice: “Above all, not too much zeal.”

What if no movement at all, much less action, can be discerned among management? It’s advisable to contain your activities with the company as long as possible. However, if management becomes obstructive or takes some sort of retaliatory action against you, you can consider going outside the company by filing a complaint with the EEOC; planting a revealing story in a newspaper; filing a minority report with the compliance officer within the federal government who monitors your company’s AAP; or by petitioning for union affiliation.

Above all, persevere. You may have to work a very long time for modest change, but if you believe that yours is a worthy cause, you will find the resourcefulness and courage necessary for success.

A word about the Brookings case

These broadly prescriptive guidelines are based in large part on the writer’s three-year involvement in organizing and helping lead the women’s caucus at the Brookings Institution, a private nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. Its size, fairly evenly divided between research and support staff, never exceeded 300 during the life of the caucus (spring 1973 to late fall 1975).

From the outset the “women’s caucus” was determined to represent at Brookings the interests of minority groups as well. After a summer of organizational meetings, the purpose of the caucus materialized: to put teeth into the institution’s AAP, the existence of which was unknown to over 90% of the respondents to a questionnaire circulated at one of our meetings. We scrutinized the AAP’s undocumented claims in a line-by-line critique. This critique, along with lists of suggestions from researchers and support staff for better treatment, was submitted to our affirmative action officer, the director of administration, who later, at our invitation, appeared before the caucus to respond to the critique and lists. Further meetings between him and an ad hoc committee from the caucus convinced us that the AAP was our best bet to change things at this establishment typically characterized in the media as “liberal” and “prestigious.”

Our purpose and program clarified, the caucus elected a ten-member steering committee, which in turn elected a senior researcher as its chair. Two ad hoc committees—one to study the institution’s AAP, the other to study the possibility of establishing a staff relations committee—were formed among the steering committee members. In assisting the administration in the annual revision of the AAP, the former committee followed all the steps an employer must take in developing an AAP (complete with a detailed proposal on goals and timetables), and a compromise was reached between the administration’s version and ours. The latter committee surveyed grievance procedures and staff relations committees at other similarly-situated organizations and discussed its findings with Brookings’ president.

Many meetings and memos later, the objectives of the two committees were officially institutionalized. The work of the affirmative action committee is carried on by the staff members (including both males and females) appointed by their program directors to assist in recruiting new staff and approving or vetoing the proposed hire. A new key responsibility of these staffers is to expand the recruitment pool, beyond merely asking one’s white male friend in academe, “Who’s your bright young man this year?”

The work of the other committee is carried on by an officially recognized staff relations committee consisting of male and female members elected by their program’s staff. This committee’s program, still developing, includes hearing staff grievances and advising the administration on action to be taken, and investigating fringe benefits, sick leave, and other institutional policies.

Finally, two more women (one a member of a minority group) were appointed to join the lone woman serving on the board of trustees, the policy-making body for Brookings.

In a move exceptional for organized bodies, the steering committee then terminated itself, the caucus, and all activities except its speakers series (which the writer conceived and led). While dispersing, however, we made known our agreement that if conditions regressed, or if the current improved representation of women and minorities especially on the research staff were to slip back to tokenism, the caucus would rise again.

Some basic materials

Commerce Clearing House, Inc., Guidebook to Fair Employment Practices. (Chicago, IL 60646). $2.50.

Davis, Susan, “Organizing from Within,” Ms. Magazine (August 1972). Reprinted in The First Ms. Reader, ed. Francine Klagsbrun (New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1973), $1.50. Cites companies having women’s caucuses which could be contacted for their experiences. Bibliography includes reference to Midwest Academy, which specializes in training women to organize working women. Contact Ms. Heather Booth, 600 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL 60614.

Maddox, Jean, and Pamela Allen, Organize! A Working Women’s Handbook. Union Wage Education Committee, 1975.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Voluntary Programs, Education Programs Division, Affirmative Action and Equal Employment: A Guidebook for Employers. Free from the EEOC (1800 G St., N.W., Wash., D.C. 20506).

Request a free copy of Revised Order No. 4 from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, U.S. Department of Labor (Wash., D.C. 20210).

Women’s Work was published by Wider Opportunities for Women, Washington, D.C.


That describes my husband and me—the public image and, better yet, the private reality.

So why were we separated nine months last year? Why eight months in store this year? Why, subtracting it all up, has nearly half of our five-year marriage been spent apart? Or together, depending on the number of eggs frying at the time.

The reason: career choices. My husband is a career naval officer who, by definition, spends long periods at sea.

We’re not the only ones in this boat. We keep company with many other couples married not only to each other but to careers that have one or both literally coming and gone. Getting it together while being apart for months at a stretch requires, it is agreed, careful preparation and, once underway, continuous fine-tuning.

“But you knew what you were getting into when you married” is the invariable comment. Yes, but: Pre-wedding fantasy rarely corresponds with the living-through.

What follows is what has worked for me, but first, an axiom: A prerequisite for marriage featuring independent living is an independent life. Having established beforehand what you’re all about—whether focused on career, cause, or children—is the only thing that gets you through those first hours when you’ve just said goodbye for six months. An agenda of lunches and tennis will not suffice. A sense of purpose helps. For me, it’s career.

Even with the fullest of lives, however, the prospect of being apart for half a year can loom like an emotional black hole, especially if you like each other. I suspect the closer the marriage, the more difficult the separation. It’s tough to compensate for the hand on the cheek and choral readings of the newspaper.

Doing so is basically a matter of mind over emotion. Thus, the terms you use are critical. I “prevail” and “sublimate like mad” while my husband “charges ahead.”

Before the goodbyes, burning issues should be settled, not tabled. One such issue is the separation itself. Discussing the inevitable feelings of abandonment and loneliness is as important as arranging for power of attorney and updated wills. Likewise, chores best completed by the imminently departed should be. Otherwise, count on it, if something can go wrong, it will—immediately after departure.

As the ship sails out of sight, I appoint myself the guardian of my own health, education, and welfare. And am I ever a nag. “Yes, it’s okay to dine straight from the refrigerator. But no lounging through weekends in a nightgown. And no drinking alone.”

To maintain the complementary interaction of our marriage, I consciously take on some of my husband’s characteristics. Our balance when we’re together is a result of his equilibrium and my pendulum. When he’s away, I monitor my swings with advice he’d likely give (“Easy now, perfectionist”). These various voices sometimes have me responding aloud, but my neighbors understand.

If never before, moderation in all things now, especially perspective. I do not count the days, except the week before homecoming. I cannot relate to, but I can be mightily depressed by, 11 days down and 265 to go. I aim instead for our week-long rendezvous scheduled midway in the separation, divide the entire period into first and second halves, and save. As a movie junkie, I plan a movie for Sunday afternoon, always the week’s dead spot for me.

Women in this situation should beware the wolves. Ye shall know them when they call and say, “Helloisyourhusbandstillawayhowaboutlunch?” (It’s nice, however, to lunch occasionally with a baritone voice. An impeccably safe one, that is.)

Communication, since we cannot phone, means reviving the art of letter writing. Its dividend, if the letters survive all the interim handling, is a lasting record of sentiment. That record should also recount the bad day with the good. Otherwise, if you’re floundering but your spouse thinks you’re fine, the encouraging word you need won’t be coming, which makes for a fitful reunion. In general, a stiff upper lip to the world but a talkative one to your spouse.

Friends will bring you out of yourself, if only because, being human they naturally center more on their lives than yours. An occasional SOS (“I’m wobbly, could we talk?”) will raise a response, but endless moaning becomes tiresome, to them and ultimately you. Besides, what you truly want from friends is friendship, not pity or hushed voices.

But no doubt about it, an all-out kvetch is cathartic, especially if conducted with a similarly situated friend. Like the time another Navy wife and I buried our hands in barbecued spareribs and bleated for hours. An emotional sauna. By all means, though, if the separation has you dead in the water, get professional counseling.

If much of the foregoing has a negative cast, it’s because prevailing over long separations is difficult. The most that can be said for them is that you learn about endurance. At the very least, you can load on the garlic.

Oh, but the homecoming! Bessie Smith makes way for Bach on a thousand-pipe organ. Being together again is grand—and bumps along like a first date—as emotions thaw and defenses relax. Dinners go back on the table.

Settled in once again, we cherish the daily-ness, that “great enemy of marriage,” as George Bernard Shaw saw it. Facing yet another separation, we reengage our issues. We tend to avoid silliness and arguments; they come back to rattle. Television, parties, puttering—anything that keeps us from talking is eliminated.

And about that eight-month separation coming up….? My husband is taking his ship to dry-dock, not to sea, and I’m packing my bags to join him.

I’ll give up the garlic. No doubt about it.

Carla Seaquist is a free-lance writer.

A family—a “nice” family—is out for a walk in the park. They stroll by a Cinco de Mayo fiesta noisily underway. Without breaking stride, the parents—“nice” people, really—glance at each other. One of them raises an eyebrow and murmurs, “Different, aren’t they?” The other nods in agreement. And the children—“nice” kids, for sure—study the scene and register the distinction.

Such is the way “nice” people practice prejudice. We who see ourselves as hard-working, family-oriented, garbage-wrapping citizens, who say “Please” and “Thank you” and “Excuse me” and who would never dream of uttering those volatile epithets that trigger race riots, nevertheless, with this seemingly innocuous observation, we “nice” people transmit to our children a powerful history of prejudice and bias.

Fiestas aren’t the only things that evoke comment. For other “nice” people, it may be a yarmulke, or Black English, or a hard hat worn by a woman. For others, it may be the boat people—a curious reaction, considering we’re a nation of immigrants. For still others, it may be pale skin and Anglo-Saxon names. All kinds of “nice” people natter on about differences.

“Different, aren’t they?”: On the surface, it looks, sounds, and feels like a question. When actually posed as such, it can lead to a family discussion of other cultures as well as one’s own, resulting over time in an appreciation of diversity. Too often, though, these simple words are stated as a final, incontrovertible judgment: “They” are not only different from “us,” but the tone of voice makes it clear “they” are inferior, which therefore makes “us” superior.

Ironically, for all its withering freight, this judgment is so often emitted unthinkingly. (And sometimes not so unthinkingly.) The family circle, after all, is where you can let your hair down, kick off your shoes, air your mind. And the mind does get aired—in casual asides, exclamations, dinnertime conversations. Rarely in ideological diatribes, though. “Nice” people don’t go in for those.

However it is delivered, coming from the most potent influence in a child’s life, the judgment sticks. Parents complain that their children don’t listen to them. The problem is, they do. Chances are that when perfectly “nice” people wrinkle their noses at others who don’t look, cook, dress, or pray like they do, very likely this subtle discrimination was imparted by a perfectly “nice” parent. And chances are that if you ask these same people where they picked up expressions like “nigger in the woodpile” or “dumb broad” or “Jew down” or “the man,” very likely the response will be, “My folks always said it” or “Back home that’s just the way we talked. There’s nothing in it.”

But there is. A very great deal lies in it. As Harry Stein writes in Ethics (and Other Liabilities): Trying to Live Right in an Amoral World, “It is much easier not to deal with someone as an individual once he has been reduced to a cliché.” More than relations between individuals is affected, however. In a world that is increasingly interdependent, in a nation that is increasingly heterogeneous, and in a technology that is increasingly dehumanizing, to fixate on differences rather than our common humanity is to fuel the tensions and discontinuities already existing.

This generalization seems self-evident enough. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to comprehend that an intolerance of differences has caused most of history’s carnage and misery. What may escape our understanding, however, is the incipient intolerance—and thus the danger—of an observation like “Different, aren’t they?” precisely because of its benign everydayness. But the distance between a sniff and a massacre is not so great.

We “nice” people, then, need to sensitize ourselves to this danger. And the next time we feel disposed to point out to our children something about differences, let’s first launder our thoughts of the traces of prejudice we all inescapably bear. Our children’s lives will be richer and possibly less imperiled for it. And so could ours.

A personal review is only the beginning. A public act is also required, especially at a time when racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual violence is accelerating in California and throughout the nation. We must speak up and we must speak out. Whenever a prejudicial remark is made, whether by an avowed bigot or by another “nice” person, whether at a social event or on the job, we must say something. And we might start with the next “harmless” ethnic joke we hear.

Which will cause some discomfort. Somehow “nice” people have come to dread being characterized as prigs. (Talk about volatile epithets!) But we must decide what it is we take a stand on: the best restaurant in town or better attitudes about human beings who are “different.” Because when “nice” people remain silent, the results may not be very nice at all.

Carla Seaquist is a former equal opportunity officer for the City of San Diego and a member of Governor Brown’s Task Force on Civil Rights.

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