NPR analyst’s fear exists within us

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Many white people avoid neighborhoods where the residents are predominantly black. Many black people know to avoid certain white neighborhoods.

Racism has not disappeared from America, and isn’t likely to for a very long time.

So we were not surprised to learn that a news analyst for National Public Radio said, “when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

We don’t want to assert that inter-group fear is natural, but it is widespread. Seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen at any high school know about invisible lines separating them, even as they mingle in hallways and cafeterias. Boys and girls keep their distance from each other at certain ages. The distances between any two or more groups breed uncertainties, and unknowns breed fears.

Juan Williams, the news analyst who expressed an idea many of us have harbored all our lives about one group or another, was fired from his NPR job for doing so. We support the right of employers to make the decisions they feel are necessary, but suggest those in this situation should have handled the situation differently.

Racism and its evil siblings, prejudice and bigotry, are responsible for some of the most heinous injustices humans inflict upon one another. They exist within each of us, and won’t disappear if we don’t pull them out into the light of day, examine them and see them for the poisons they are.

An NPR news analyst position is a perfect place from which to conduct such an examination. As that topic was examined, the issue of appropriate expression for a news analyst would also have been discussed.

Some companies view failure as a necessary milepost on the road to success. If Williams’ comment is viewed as a failure to comply with the standards of his position, call it that in an on-air discussion of the fear most of us feel, and that most of us try to keep hidden deep within us.

If we could expose it, we might learn it’s not justified. And maybe the boogeyman that prevents us from truly knowing each other would disappear.  

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