Rep. King, Empathy and the ‘Others’

“Deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome someday…”
Zimmerman verdict protest rallyAs I stood in the pouring rain Saturday in Atlanta for the Trayvon Martin rally, my mind wandered to another time, another place. I could have been standing in the rain for a rally during the 1960s. I could have been in any city in America. I could have been in a time when the crowd I was standing with could have been met with water cannons, bullets and angry words. But we were not. There was no ugliness, there was no threats from angry men in uniform, and there was only the sound of the rain hitting the umbrellas of the throng of people of all colors and the distant voices of the speakers.

Time stood still as the rain came down and as people became drenched with natures gift, as if we were all being blessed with the rain of life. The down pour did not stop the crowd from cheering, singing and holding hands. The rain was a beautiful reminder all things will pass and all hurt and anger can be washed away.

For as long as I can remember there have been people in this land who have exploited, abused and maligned – just as there have and continue to be many people who feel the color of a person’s skin is not important and all men and women should be judged by their contribution to society, their intellect and their heart.

This week we saw just the opposite from Iowa’s Representative Steve King;  he said that 99% of “Dreamers” are drug mules and don’t amount to much more. This is not the first time congressman King has used ugly, racist words to describe America’s Hispanic immigrants and, by all accounts, he is standing by his words.

“Some of them are valedictorians — and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

A look at Congressman King’s inflammatory rhetoric of the past reveals a man who has compared Mexican immigrants to dogs and has said illegal immigration is like a slow motion ‘terrorist attack’. And, while he was an Iowa State Senator, he introduced legislation making English the official language of Iowa.

Congressman King has refused to apologize for his hateful words, even after the Speaker of the House John Boehner called King’s remarks as both reprehensible and beneath the dignity of a member of congress. King also refused to apologize for calling undocumented immigrants dogs, and went so far as to say he was “giving them a compliment.”

Needless to say, Congressman King has issues with the undocumented gaining any form of citizenship or immunity. It’s likely neither aspect of the legislation will make it past the Republican Tea Party-held House of Representatives if the Senate ever gets around to completing their work on immigration reform legislation.

Creating a path to citizenship is not just the right and moral thing to do, it is also good business for the country. Latino owned businesses contributed $800 million dollars to communities all across America. Further, it is estimated that granting the 11 million undocumented residents a way to citizenship will increase American GDP .83% each year after reform, thereby helping to reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion dollars.

Congressman King and people of his ilk see an America only through the eyes of those who feel neither empathy nor sympathy for anyone who they perceive as being ‘different’ from themselves.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, has said that as the result of economic inequity many people have become desensitized, and that lack of empathy creates mean, cold-hearted people who only care about themselves.

If we as a people do not have empathy, if we cannot see past color or accent; if we cannot sympathize with a family whose son’s life was taken from him, then we will become as closed-minded as Congressman King — and the social contract that holds us together as a people and a country will soon be washed away like the rain that flowed in the gutters of Atlanta.