westboro baptist church

When I first learned that I had to take a “race and ethnic relations” class, I thought it would be pretty dry. I really thought that there was not going to be anything truly new to learn. I  However I am pleased to say that I have found the class to be interesting and informative. The theories that I have been reading about in the text shed a little more light on the subject of race and ethnic relations. The discussions we have been having in class have all been interesting as well. I feel like I am being encouraged to think instead of just soaking up data. But the cynic in me is still a bit restless. I think that so far we have learned about the way racial and ethnic problems arise in our society and how to deal with them in theory but, I must admit, I don’t think I am any more prepared to deal with theses problems in the real world then I was before.

            There are different kinds of prejudice and different kinds of discrimination. In class we have learned about the authoritative personality theory and the scapegoat hypothesis. We learned about Marx’s Split labor market and conflict theories, and the list goes on and on. No individual theory fully explains the social problems we have to deal with in this country, but together we begin to form an understanding of the causes of racial and ethnic tensions. We have also learned about possible ways to combat these problems like through Education and contact. I think that what we learn from the robbers cave experiment has probably been some of the most useful information that our class has studied thus far. The robbers cave experiment not only gives us a theory about how social conflict happens but also how to remedy it. But even if there were not other factors involved, such as generations of inequality, how could we create an environment where people of all sorts of races and ethnic backgrounds can work toward a common goal?

The Westboro Baptist church has been in the news lately. For those of you that don’t know they are a small cult that the Anti Defamation League considers a hate group. They protest at the funerals of fallen American soldiers. They wave signs with homophobic propaganda like: “God hates fags”. As well as other slogans like: “God hates America” They think that God is ultimately causing the deaths of these soldiers as a punishment for America’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality. One of the parents of a dead soldier whose funeral the cult was protesting sued the cult and was initially successful. But later, a federal court overturned the ruling stating that the cult has a first amendment right to protest where it wants. The free speech issue aside, I just can’t get my mind around the reasoning of this cult and their leader Fred Phelps. This guy hates gays so much that he thinks, for some strange reason, that God would manipulate the universe in such a way that hundreds of soldiers, many of whom are not even gay themselves would die horrible deaths. And in addition, it is his divinely imparted obligation to disrupt the funerals of these soldiers (who had no idea that God had it out for them) and disturb their family members (who had no control over the situation at all).

I have been trying to use the information we have accumulated in class to analyze this cults behavior. Scapegoat theory is a possibility; these people might be frustrated in some way that causes tem to lash out a homosexuals and American society in general. Authoritarian personality theory is another possibility. Must of the members of the cult are related to Phelps. Both of these theories suggest that something unpleasant has gone on in the lives of these people and they are trying to deal with that in an irrational way. But that’s just it. They are not actually dealing with their problems. And in the case of a cult like this I don think they really want to. I am reminded of the narrative about the former member of the Klu Klux Klan C.P. Ellis in our text book. He was frustrated with his lot in life and took it out on blacks, but he eventually saw that blacks were not the cause of his frustration. So he left the Klan. What I would really like to know is how we can make people come to these kinds of realizations on the level of a whole society. I guess that is the million dollar question.

On the first day of class there was a brief discussion about free will. I agree that there are factors in our lives that we have no control over. One might feel powerless over ones situation and lash out at the wrong people possibly because it might be imposable to lash out at the right people. Perhaps no one is truly to blame and there are no right people to lash out at. I think that all the members of the Westboro Baptist Church know this even if it is on a near subconscious level. And that leaves them with a choice, either be a kind and understanding human being or be angry at the world for the rest of your life. That is were I think free will comes into the equation. I still think that it is impossible to end bigotry at the level of the whole society. I think it is a choice we all must make for ourselves.

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