Op-ed: We each have role in repairing our torn social fabric
By Scott Ulbrich, Bill Crim and Maribel Rodriguez
Much has been said in the past three weeks about the need for our country to come together after the most divisive election in our lifetimes. We are grateful to the many elected and community leaders who have called for unity and greater civility. On behalf of United Way of Salt Lake, we add our voice to these calls. It’s clear, however, that to combat the bigotry and fear that have found traction as a result of the election, it will take many more of us, engaging in many more acts of personal and collective courage.
Reports of bullying and aggression (or worse) are common, despite the recent calls for unity. In our partnerships with schools, we see children suddenly emboldened to express the hateful views of their parents to fellow students who just days before had been playground friends.
In high schools, we see the existing but still permeable boundaries of race becoming hardened as students seek the temporary safety of sameness and attack those who are different. These heartbreaking experiences are not limited to young people.
In the short time since the election, one of our employees has been the target of two separate and random attacks based on skin color alone. Imagine what it must feel like to never know when — but to have to expect — that some stranger might start yelling obscenities at you in a store parking lot or run you off the road and endanger your life in order to tell you to “go back to Mexico.”
The pulling apart of our community did not begin with this election. Bigotry and racism have never gone away. Even with the progress of electing our first African American president, people of color and their allies know all too well that the battle for just and fair inclusion in society must still be fought on a daily basis. And it’s important to say that this is not about politics, party affiliation or anyone’s personal vote — this is about basic human values of respect and dignity.
There are legitimate policy differences in any election and therefore legitimate reasons to vote for a particular candidate. It’s quite clear that poverty and economic dislocation were drivers of election. Unfortunately, the heated election of 2016 and divisive campaign rhetoric gave higher profile and a louder voice to existing bigotry and racism and accelerated the exclusion and polarization among people that has long been underway.
The question now before us isn’t who to blame, but rather, “What can each of us do to bring people together and build a world in which every individual, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin, can achieve the “inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
In our view, we must go beyond tolerance and generic support for unity. As AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a recent speech, “tolerance is for cowards.” This is a moment that calls each of us to take specific actions that stand up for inclusion. We must commit ourselves to seek out and understand those who are different from us. We must become allies against racially or religiously motivated attacks, even if that is a new or uncomfortable action for us. We must identify and act on the many ways each of us — as individuals and from whatever roles we hold in our professional and personal lives — can stand up every day for the values of respect, equity, dignity and inclusion upon which our country is built. We invite you to join us in this effort by visiting www.itstartswithyou.uw.org.
Scott Ulbrich is a business leader and board chair of United Way of Salt Lake. Bill Crim is the president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake. Maribel Rodriguez is a community school director for United Way of Salt Lake.