Do you know that it’s National Brotherhood Week? Well, it used to be National Brotherhood Week. In 1934, the National Conference for Christians and Jews NCCJ) came up with the idea of celebrating National Brotherhood Week during the third week of February. But it only lasted through the 1980s. Looking back on the political climate since the end of National Brotherhood Week, it seems that we could use a little more brotherhood year round. But for the past 3 decades, we haven’t even been able to manage one week.
The NCCJ was founded in 1927 in response to anti-Catholic sentiment when Al Smith ran for the Democratic nomination for President. The organization was dedicated to “bringing diverse people together to address interfaith divisions.” After the end of National Brotherhood Week, they kept the acronym but changed their name to The National Conference for Community and Justice. They are now “dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism in America.”
In the image above, FDR refers to the “spirit of brotherhood which we prize in this country” but observes that “We are fighting … [so that it can be] … practiced here and by free men everywhere.” He was, of course, referring to WWII. But it seems that we’ve been at war overseas nonstop since then, and the war of words continues to wage out of control at home. We’re still fighting to bring the “spirit of brotherhood” to the world while we fail to reflect that spirit at home.
There’s a lot of work to be be done if the NCCJ is to have any hope of fulfilling its “new” (30+ year old) mission. The political climate has certainly deteriorated since the demise of National Brotherhood Week – although the hatred and vitriol aimed at most of the Presidents during that period has nothing to do with bias, bigotry or racism.
Most? Yes, my friends. Some (but by no means all) of the Obama hatred we see today is the result of racism. There cannot be any doubt about that. Birtherism, demands for school records, calling him and his ideas “foreign” to America – these all come from subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) racism. Did you think that electing our first President of color would bring us closer to the color-blind society about which Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied? Sadly, it seems to have brought us further from that dream. Further from the goals of the NCCJ and National Brotherhood Week.
One of the things I fondly remember about National Brotherhood Week is the Tom Lehrer song of the same name. Maybe if we laugh at ourselves, we’ll be embarrassed enough to remember that just because someone worships differently, or loves differently, or is physically different, doesn’t mean we should treat them as the “other”. We are more alike than we are different.
Now, enjoy a little Tom Lehrer …
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