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Inside Politics: Ending discrimination starts by doing something

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

This quote by author and clergyman Edward Everett Hale holds true today just as it did when he wrote it more than a hundred years ago. So much has not changed. If we want to end discrimination, it has to start with us, individually. Doing something. Regardless of your color, religion, place of birth or gender, none of us can do everything. But we all can do something. If we all do something, we can create inclusive communities where everyone can thrive.

The entire state was shocked by the news in 2015 of the attack on an 18-year-old African-American man with disabilities by three white football players at Dietrich High School. According to a lawsuit filed by the victim’s family, he had been subjected to routine racial discrimination prior to the attack. Like so many of you, we have to wonder whether any of that would have happened had someone — anyone — done something.

We were honored to moderate a group discussion last week organized by a host of human rights, anti-violence and legal defense groups in Boise. Courageous men, women and children shared their stories of discrimination and marginalization. They recounted incidents of abuse based on their race, struggles with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, sexual orientation, country of origin and any number of other reasons. One Boise State student-athlete recounted the horrifying story of finding her mother’s vehicle vandalized with the words “Go Back” painted on the back. She went on to explain how her Nigerian-born parents constantly remind her to talk, act and dress in a “non-threatening” manner. Sociologists might refer to this as “code-switching,” although Paul Laurence Dunbar captured the essence of this practice in his poem “We Wear the Mask” when he wrote, “We sing, but oh the clay is vile/Beneath our feet, and long the mile/But let the world dream otherwise/We wear the mask.” Those outside mainstream dominant U.S. culture must walk bi-culturally. So much has not changed.

We know that many believe reports of racial, ethnic or gender discrimination are often exaggerated or blown out of proportion by people looking for sympathy. But how many of you have been marginalized because of your perceived lack of education? How many of you have been called “dumb” or “stupid” or been made to feel that way? By a neighbor? A colleague? Maybe the media? How many of you routinely deal with negative attributions based on erroneous information?

A woman talked about dealing with a doctor who treats her child for a developmental disability. At times, she disagrees with how the doctor treats her child. However, she admits she is reticent to confront him because she is not a college graduate. As she put it, she knows what it’s like to be discriminated against for “not being educated.”

In a state where less than half of high school graduates go on to college, this woman’s story must ring true for a lot of Idahoans. Discrimination is not just about race, gender or religion. It encompasses class and social status. How exhausting it must be to get up every day thinking the people you interact with regard you as inferior. How often have you tried to pass yourself off as someone you’re not because of that? How many of you wear the mask every day of your lives? What makes this worse are the long-term psychological effects discrimination can cause. The stress of being an “other” can impede learning, trigger depression, lead to drug use and much worse. People who feel accepted in their communities are much less likely to go down those dark paths.

A common theme from last week’s forum was how little compassion there seems to be for those who are marginalized. That’s why affirmation is so important. If we want to end discrimination — in all its myriad forms — we have to take a risk and get to know those outside our circle; to talk with and listen to others; to affirm their personhood. We must let them know they matter. As lawmakers, we must champion legislation and policies that combat discrimination and foster equality. Laws are necessary. They reflect our values as a culture and can be catalysts for change.

A Nigerian man shared a story from his time at an Idaho college when he and his classmates hosted an “Africa Night” to share their culture with the community. When he returned home he had a message on his answering machine filled with racial slurs. The next day, the school’s admissions director published a letter to the community supporting this student and denouncing racism and discrimination. However small this gesture may seem, it meant the world to this student. Instead of feeling despair, this one administrator’s action gave the student hope because someone stood up for him. Sometimes, doing something can make all the difference.

Idahoans are good people. Just as the admissions director stood up against hate, we too can do something to show support and love and combat violence and racism when it shows up. We’re not asking that you do everything. Just do something. We are in this together. We must take action to interrupt hate and violence and create compassionate communities where all are welcome and everyone can thrive.

Other View: A good tax idea from Trump

There is an upside to President Donald Trump’s unorthodox style of communication: Sometimes he comes out with a good idea that a less mercurial national figure might avoid out of conventional political caution. So it was with his remark during an interview with Bloomberg News, to the effect that he “would certainly consider” increasing the federal excise tax on motor fuels to help pay for an increase in federal infrastructure spending.

Trump’s one condition should present no obstacle: He said he could support a hike only if the money went to pay for highways, but the law already requires that it go into a trust fund dedicated to the purpose. Beyond that, his statement was just right. The two main revenue sources of that trust fund—an 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax and a 24.4 cents-per-gallon tax on diesel—have not been raised since 1993. That is to say, they have been cut, when you take inflation into account, by 40 percent over the past 24 years. Consequently, the Highway Trust Fund (which also subsidizes mass transit) is chronically underfunded and transportation needs are going unmet. Frightened of being labeled tax-raisers, presidents and members of Congress from both parties have shied away from increasing the levy or even letting it keep pace with inflation. Politicians chose instead to adopt a bill in December 2015 that purported to replenish the trust fund through such unsustainable budgetary gimmicks as a raid on the Federal Reserve’s cash flow.

Trump said he has been influenced by a friend in the trucking industry, which both benefits from a well-maintained road system and suffers from an insufficient one, in the form of congestion and vehicle damage. Accordingly, American Trucking Associations has long favored higher fuel taxes. The user-fee approach to paying for the roads makes sense for ordinary motorists as well: It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to resist slightly higher prices at the pump, because automobile drivers, too, must pay for pothole-caused damage and time lost to traffic.

Of course no one likes to pay more for fuel; policy should be adjusted to help mitigate the impact of this inevitably regressive levy on those who can least afford it. Still, at $2.38 per gallon, Tuesday’s nationwide average price of regular gasoline was less than what Americans paid 70 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The tax increase needed to cover currently planned Highway Trust Fund spending would be small—roughly a dime per gallon, according to a 2015 Congressional Budget Office report. Ideally, Congress and the Trump administration could agree to a significantly larger amount, then index it to inflation permanently to assure the trust fund’s long-term stability.

By the way, a higher gas tax would help reduce fuel consumption and thus would be extremely effective in combating climate change as well. Admittedly, that’s not exactly one of Trump’s favorite causes. But he wouldn’t have to include it in his talking points.