I have had a couple of assignments in the past week that revolve around hate. Combined with the attempted car bombing in NY and the unabashedly strict new immigration law in Arizona, it makes me wonder how so much animosity can be so pervasive. Where does it all come from? Is it human nature to despise that which we don’t understand, those who are unlike us? Has extremism gone mainstream?
I was in San Francisco last week to photograph a young man named Jamie Nabozny. Jaime is the kind of person who anyone could hang around. A man with a kind demeanor who heralds from Wisconsin and works in corporate America. But I wasn’t there to photograph Jamie because he’s a nice, middle class, typical American male. I was there because a documentary is being made about hate and Jamie is at the core of it. Seems this mild mannered man had anything but a mild mannered adolescence. Realizing he was gay at an early age, Jamie encountered hate growing up that had San Francisco high school students gasping in disbelief during an assembly. Beyond the taunting and name calling, Jamie was regularly assaulted and even urinated on but found little or no support from his school teachers and administrators. After moving around to different schools and hoping to simply be left alone, Jamie resorted to multiple suicide attempts. Thankfully, he eventually found an administration at another new school that would not tolerate the hateful actions and crimes committed on Jamie. He now spreads the word to high schools with the hope that he can teach tolerance to the intolerant, to appeal to the people who would rather spread hate than understanding. His story brought tears to many a hardened high schooler in the crowd.
I flew home on Friday and ended up shooting the large immigration protest in Los Angeles the next day. With the state of Arizona leading the way in immigration reform, albeit in a hateful and remarkably stupid way that will create difficulties for Arizona police and citizens alike, tens of thousands of protestors gathered near City Hall to be heard. Black, brown, white, Asian, it didn’t matter. The multiethnic crowd wanted to be heard that hate toward the undocumented would not be tolerated. Too often when economic times are challenging and crimes are committed, people choose hate over dialogue, turning to scapegoating as opposed to working for a meaningful solution. And once again, as it has before especially during the 90’s with California’s Prop 187, hate rears it’s ugly head and the undocumented are singled out as the reason for society’s ills.
Immigration reform is no doubt necessary. Even the horde of demonstrators acknowledge that. But reform has to come with the acceptance of divergent opinions and the denouncement of hyperbole and propaganda disguised as facts. For example, again the people of this country are led to believe that the undocumented take more from social services than they give, thus depriving the taxpayer of needed services. It’s simply not true, but it’s used by those that spread hate as fact and indisputable despite reports to the contrary. As a NY Times article clearly pointed out, the strict standards in place to employ anyone, including immigrants, includes a demand for social security numbers by all employees. The undocumented, of course, purchase fake social security cards and papers to gain employment. The employers take the social security taxes out of the immigrant’s paycheck and send them to the federal government. But since those numbers are fake, that money is placed in a account for the government to use. The immigrant never sees a dime of it.
Seeking answers should always include a heavy dose of tolerance.