Dr. Salma Rashid and husband David Merritt, staying in Windsor as delegates to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention in Detroit, may be their own best argument for a “21st Century of Hope.”
Everything about the couple, including their selection of Canada for accommodation, is symbolic of their belief — outlined in a book they wrote together — that all races, nations, religions and both genders can choose to live in a world beyond prejudice. The book’s title is 20th Century American Struggle, 21st Century Hope.
Mr. Merritt, an African American, was – by his own admission headed for life in the inner city gangs of the Bronx before leaving for a new start in California. Ms. Rashid, a Pakistani American, was an aspiring medical student in her native country, a female choosing a non-traditional career in a male dominated society.
Mr. Merritt is Christian. Ms. Rashid is Muslim. They decided to stay in Windsor because, with its historic role in welcoming runaway slaves, its health care system for all and its multicultural society, “Canada is the light on the continent bringing sanity to an insane world,” said Mr. Merritt.
“Windsor has a history as the end of the Underground Railroad,” he said. “Canada brings healing and balance to the psyche of Americans. If not for Canada, slavery and American history would have been much darker. I feel a deep connection to Canada.”
Ms. Rashid and Mr. Merritt are presenting their book at the convention. It purports to offer “not just another discussion, but the solution” to ending America’s history of racial, religious and sexist discord.
“Our book’s purpose is to better racial, cultural, gender and religious relations,” said Mr. Merritt, who trained as an electronics technician but whose interest in social justice led him to a career as a paralegal matching prisoners with compatible lawyers.
“We cover U.S. history and the struggle for equality…. The book lays a foundation to purge the mind of stereotypes.
It’s designed to give readers tools for healthier relations. There’s no white and black, only a human race, with different shades of people.”
Ms. Rashid, a doctor of internal medicine and radiology, also studied psychology and that led her to study attitudes that lead to prejudice.
The couple, who met through their shared interests, conclude prejudice, bigotry and intolerance are hard-wired into the brains of everyone to one degree or another.
Those traits, which they call “psycho-genetics,” are passed along generation to generation and throughout different cultures.
It’s as much a part of community history as family history and is based upon ignorance and fear resulting in assumptions about “the other.” Ms. Rashid said there are exercises that can be used to short-circuit such hard wiring and replace it with empathy and understanding.
To give but one simplistic example, Mr. Merritt noted he once chose to “live blind” for a week, covering his eyes and relying on his other senses. It amazed him how visual cues began to fade, and with them so did prejudices and pre-conceived notions about skin color, ethnicity, weight and beauty. In addition, he said, his vulnerability led him to trust more in others. “It was a shock to see people so clearly.” Their research concluded only 13 per cent of Americans are hard-core racists and 34 per cent are not. But it’s the remaining 53 per cent who hold the balance.
Currently, said Mr. Merritt, many exhibit bigoted traits “out of habit” and are most vulnerable to be influenced by fear. But they are also those whose attitudes can be changed. If enough change, America will change. If they do not? “Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will never be president of the United States,” Merritt said, speaking of the two Democratic candidates. “Not unless every voter is struck blind.”
The couple will try to make their arguments at the convention, attended by 8,000 delegates. In addition to these delegates, the US presidential candidates will be visiting the Windsor-Detroit area.
…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (Neil.Hod.) after a July 9, 2007 article by Don LaJoie in The Windsor Star