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Let's respond quickly & strongly to acts of intolerance

Original post made by Jeff Blum, human relations commission chairperson on Jun 1, 2006

It bothered me when I recently read a news article indicating that — for the first time ever — more Asian than Caucasian students were admitted to University of California schools.

I wondered whether we would have a more tolerant society if newspapers stopped publishing such news.

Am I supposed to feel threatened by this news that Asians who attend the University of California schools outnumber Caucasians? Were Caucasians being goaded into reacting adversely to this information? Are Caucasians supposed to panic and overreact, as we did toward Asians during World War II when we sent thousands of Japanese citizens to detention camps?

If we are all Americans (ie.; one nation under God, indivisible, etc.) why does it matter whether there are more Latinos or Asians, or Caucasians attending the UCs?

Coming from my gut, my first reaction to this article was to consider it an act of intolerance.

What is an act of intolerance? We on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission (HRC) define it as conduct that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of race, skin color, gender, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, weight, height, socio-economic status and housing.

Just as I recognized that the article was not unfairly targeting Asians and I began to calm down a few acts of intolerance occurred locally and I got worked up again. This time, out of frustration because the protocols I developed for quickly responding to acts of intolerance were not instituted.

Someone drew a swastika at JLS. The police could not decide whether this constituted a hate crime. If not a hate crime, it most certainly was an act of intolerance to which we on the HRC pledged to rapidly respond.

Unfortunately, we failed to react quickly. No letters to the editor with anti-prejudice and pro-diversity messages, no calls to local religious, educational and political leaders urging them to condemn all forms of bigotry, no rallies, parades, or fairs organized to celebrate diversity, and no e-mails or telephone calls to other groups that address acts of intolerance, asking them for assistance in responding.

At least we learned about the incident quickly thanks to the monitoring efforts of one commissioner.


Then, the high schools in Palo Alto had a week of events focusing on diversity and tolerance, which I understand one club chose to boycott because of the participation of another club. I heard about this one through my daughter Julia.


Now that the dust has settled from these events, I am ready to rededicate my efforts to making sure a quick reaction to an act of intolerance is made the next time one occurs.


We will ask the police and the schools to immediately inform us when an act of intolerance occurs. I will be the point person on the HRC to write a letter or column condemning acts of intolerance if I believe it is appropriate. At our next meeting, other commissioners will be appointed to create a telephone tree and e-mail list so other groups and individuals can also react. Another commissioner will take charge of distributing our protocols for responding to acts of intolerance to other community leaders so they also are prepared to respond.


I know that the HRC cannot do it all. Therefore, in formulating this rapid response plan I included community responses.


I am afraid that if an act of intolerance is not responded to in a forceful way the perpetrator will consider the silence a tacit endorsement, and those targeted will feel unsupported. Therefore, the response plan includes a request that community members report the act to the proper authorities.


The HRC protocols for a community response also ask for assistance with persuading our leaders to take a stand against intolerance, help by sponsoring an "I have a dream" essay or blog contest, and by targeting for attention youths who may be tempted by hate groups.


Having overcome my initial angry reaction to the article on Asian students and their success rate at the UC schools, I wondered how I would have reacted if my daughter, Emily, had not recently been admitted to several of the UCs.


I realized that an important way for all of us to respond to acts of intolerance is to look inside ourselves for potential prejudices and stereotypes, or to see if we are basing our reactions on our personal circumstances.

(Also published in the May 31, 2006 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly)

Comments (1)

Posted by R. Donan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2006 at 12:58 am

A very insightful topic. I support your closing statement. Truly, change can only occur when one is honest with himself.


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