There is a lot of truth, in my opinion, to what Mr. Brooks has described in his column. People prefer those of their own kind. “Integration” is only for others.
I returned to India twelve years ago, filled with idealism – I wanted to improve the lives of poor people, to help create a fair and equal society. But now, after struggling with that goal for many years, I have begun to give up on my dream. Our foundation’s work in those years has brought about considerable prosperity to the villages around us, and yet, people live segregated lives. “Lower caste” people live in one secluded section of the village; “upper castes” do not eat together with lower castes at any function; there are separate temples for both upper and lower castes; even classrooms for small children are segregated by castes. The government asks for an individual’s caste in every official document, and the constitution doesn’t attempt to abolish the caste system.
Discrimination based on religion, caste, race, ethnic origin, gender or sexual preference is all too commonplace. People do not wish to accept their differences and treat each other with dignity. What seems to unite one group of people is their differences from another group – all in the name of common good.
But if we can learn to be tolerant enough to interact with each other, work and play together, and not harm each other, it might be good enough – there may not be a need to live together and socially interact as an integrated community! Even a limited impersonal interaction might be too much to expect.
I often ask myself whether my children and I find ourselves part of mainstream American society. I am not sure of the answer. But I don’t think it matters a great deal. Education and professional accomplishments have allowed us to deal with anyone and everyone. I can’t worry too much about other people’s personal biases and prejudices.
Maybe the trouble is that people are afraid of others who are different from them. People are afraid of losing their jobs or property, fear for their physical safety, or resent others infringing upon their faith or beliefs. These negative forces are all too powerful to allow “outsiders” inside.
I think the trick to integration is dealing with all those fears. A society that offers plenty of opportunities can negate the fear of losing money and wealth – the primary factor behind discrimination. People who conduct themselves in a disrespectful manner toward others cannot expect others to accept them. People who preach their assumed superiority in values or faith will not find others to embrace them. These are lessons that political, community and religious leaders need to teach their people.
Unfortunately, hatred is the longest running passion. Discriminatory remarks and incrimination are not often confronted in today’s society. Tolerance and acceptance of differences are rare commodities.
While I am pessimistic about the future of social equality, something deeper tells me that we should never give up on this noble goal. As for our foundation’s mission and work, we will continue to offer as many opportunities as possible to those who need it most. In doing so, we shall cultivate tolerance, focusing on “good values” as opposed to “good faiths.” Maybe over time we can make a little difference.
Please visit us at www.tgfworld.org and www.indiauntouched.com