By Dr. Ralph Massullo | Citrus Chronicle

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Gerry Mulligan’s column in the Dec. 14 Chronicle about his experience at a barbecue place in Central Florida. It saddens me to think that we still have prejudice and racism in our world, particularly here in the United States, where we pride ourselves on being the most inclusive, tolerant and accepting country in the world. By the way, we are that in spades compared to the rest of the world. 

It is truly a tragedy in every sense of the word. Tragedy can be defined as a play where an important, heroic person meets with disaster either through some personal fault or through unavoidable circumstances. In most cases, the protagonist’s downfall conveys a sense of human dignity in the face of great conflict. Is that not what we are seeing today in our world? My heart goes out to the man who was discriminated against by the clerk. He didn’t deserve to be associated with someone else just because his skin was a similar color. But I also have compassion for the clerk who, through fear, ignorance, insecurity and perhaps pride, expressed prejudice where it was entirely unwarranted. Are they both the important, heroic people who meet disaster through their own fault or unavoidable circumstances? 

I say yes! But where is the human dignity? That is truly the question.

Our approach to this problem has been flawed of late, and in fact we have actually worsened the situation using the same fear, ignorance, insecurity and pride that caused it. The answer isn’t using other — often unrelated — horrible and tragic events to prove some self-imagined thesis, as many race-baiters tend to do. Nor is it rioting and destroying property and hurting others’ livelihoods. Nor is it yet another government initiative that is too expensive and too inefficient to be effective and often counterproductive to the cause of normalizing race relations and limiting prejudice, as affirmative action has become in recent years. 

The answer lies in changing culture through education and eliminating the ignorance and insecurity that are the root of the issue. That starts with us — all of us! In our homes we need to educate our children on the equality of all people and the principles on which this country was founded. Parents need to take more responsibility for their children. Many of our societal issues are due entirely to that lack of parental involvement, particularly with absent or abusive fathers. Our media need to tell the truth, and when the truth isn’t clear, they should say so and not create a situation that serves some political agenda that favors their individual beliefs. Save that for editorials and let people know that they are just editorials and not propaganda to paint a false picture. Government needs to calm people with leadership, give them the security they deserve and put out the fires of those who make rash judgments — not fan the flames.

Our leaders have a high responsibility to serve the public interest, and it seems many are using anything they can to serve their own agendas. This is wrong, and we all need to wake up, stand up and let them know this isn’t why they were elected and given our trust.

Lastly, I have to say that as a nation we need to pray to God for healing and grace. Our presidents ask God to bless our country after most all their speeches. I know there are some of us who do not believe that God exists, and you have that right as an American. Jesus came, lived, died and was resurrected at a time in the world when few people believed in God and only a handful believed in Him; however, through His life, death, message and prayers, the world changed forever. One of those critical changes was the principle of accepting all people regardless of race, sex, status or belief as equal and treating everyone with respect even to the point of giving up one’s life for another … or many. Before He came, no one believed in those principles and the world was much darker than it is today. 

It’s ironic that the solution to our problems could lie in the person some of us want to deny needs to exist and yet history clearly defines everything we strive to obtain with equality of people as Christian principles. Isn’t that what our goal should be today?

Gerry, I hope you find your appetite again.

Dr. Ralph Massullo is a Citrus County dermatologist.