The clamor over the Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act will soon recede into the background. Yet surprisingly it has left me changed forever. It caused me to face the part bigotry and closed-mindedness has played in my life. I am a psychotherapist.
My dedication – I have dedicated my life to assisting people in opening their minds and in seeing life from different perspectives. I help people learn that having compassion for themselves and others helps them feel more alive, instead of depressed and anxious.
I have quietly done this one person at a time, committed to honoring each person’s values and wanting to keep my values and my perspectives in the background. This way whoever was across from me, no matter what their beliefs, their ethnic background, or their lifestyle, I could help them become the person they wanted to become.
The recent events created an internal conflict that I didn’t expect. I wanted to speak out. I had to speak out. I could not stay in the shadows any more. I didn’t understand why this had become so important to me until I remembered the pain prejudice had caused in my life.
As a 60 year-old, heterosexual, college educated, white male, you might ask what possible role could prejudice have really played in your life. Maybe you’re thinking I am complaining that minorities were getting favoritism thus causing me to be unable to get a job I wanted. Not to diminish the importance of employment discrimination, but it took something personal to me to create the upheaval that I felt. Then I remembered.
When I was in seventh grade, my father took a position with the Department of Agriculture to become a federal grain inspector. We moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to New Orleans, Louisiana. A dream come true for any budding adolescent male, yet the reality was more complex.
We were Yankees. There was something wrong with us because we had come from the northern part of the United States. I watched as people made fun of my differences and I began to realize that I didn’t really fit in. I watched my father struggle to get promoted. He was never able to fit in and it damaged his career in many ways. I was young. I adjusted and soon pushed to the back of my mind the treatment that I had received.
But as much as I loved New Orleans, it has never been home. I never considered starting a family there or building a life there.
Meeting the KKK
I kept hearing from the proponents of the bill, saying trust us, this really is no big deal. Then I remembered another event that forever changed me. I was visiting my parents in New Orleans and needed to get away from the family to spend some time by myself. I went to a quiet bar to have a drink and think a few things out. I don’t remember how she approached me or why. Maybe in my quiet contemplation I looked disillusioned or discontent to her.
But a beautiful woman sat down close to me and began to talk. Soon we were talking about life. She was sharing her beliefs. I was sharing mine. She was clearly not attempting to start a romance but as a young man I was in heaven enjoying some time with this beautiful, intelligent woman. Every once in a while, my ears would perk up as she seemed to say something that rubbed me wrong, but in general I was having a great time. After about 30 minutes of talking, she began to become a little bolder.
I stopped her and asked her what group she was advocating. She asked me to come to a meeting and find out. I would enjoy myself; meet some nice people; might even meet a future governor. I was beginning to become suspicious. I said that I would not go unless I understood more of what I was walking into. Then she told me.
She wanted me to come listen to David Duke speak. I almost attended a meeting of the KKK. David Duke’s beliefs were totally different from mine. How could a person talk to me for 30 minutes without me understanding how different her beliefs were from mine? I was an intelligent, highly educated man who had a decent grasp on his beliefs and how different they were from the beliefs that the KKK were advocating. Yet it took me around 30 minutes to realize I was being recruited.
We Are Better Than This
Now I am coming out of the shadows. I am not going to fight every battle. I am not going to do whatever it takes, but I am going to make my presence felt. I am calling upon those who have had enough.
- We need statesmen
- We need people who speak the truth
- We need to treat each other with respect
Let’s step up. Each of us making a difference. Each of us making our voices heard. Each of us expecting and demanding that we ourselves, our community and our country find a better way to treat each other.
And I have some things to say to the people who are advocating prejudice and are willing to attempt to mislead us with false promises of how benign their intentions are. I’ve been misled before, I’ve suffered prejudice before and I’ve had it. I am coming out of the shadows.
I don’t care if you are trying to force a liberal or conservative agenda down my throat or using religion to hide prejudice. I don’t care if you’re afraid of people from other cultures or afraid of people who aren’t like you.
The Cry from the Middle – I am raising a cry from the middle. Start getting along. Stop dividing us. Stop lying to us about what you are really up to. We are better than this.
Allen Rader, LCSW – Allen is a therapist, entrepreneur and founder of ATS Wellness and Therapy: therapy and wellness strategies and occasionally writes for Indyatwork.com, a business blog for the Indianapolis community. He enjoys assisting people in transforming their lives rather than just learning to cope with the challenges of life.