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Spelling Bee: How Do You Spell Xenophobia?

May 28, 2015
Plain English Version

 

Ansun Sujoe, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., were named co-champions of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Their siblings helped them celebrate the first shared title since 1962.

Ansun Sujoe, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., were named co-champions of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Their siblings helped them celebrate the first shared title since 1962.

Winners of spelling bees are always be greeted with cheers. But sometimes messages like this go out over social media:

“The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN”

“No American sounding names who won the spelling B. #sad#fail”

“We need an American to win this spelling bee #tiredofindians”

Some background.

Men, most of whom were white Protestants, wrote our Constitution. Most agree it is a profound statement about freedoms and rights.

The early stock of this nation was largely German, Dutch, English, French, Scandinavian and Spanish. The people who came later owe them a great debt.

But as a wise writer put it, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

After 225 years the struggle continues. It has not taken place without kicking and screaming. Ending slavery was the chief victory. Full rights for women took some time. Recently, the rights of gay people have been mostly achieved.

There remain streaks of nativism and xenophobia in the country. Both words mean suspicion and hatred of people who are the “other.” “Other” could a color, a religion or a different homeland.  It is all about the fear of change.

Which is what accounts for something as odd as the open hostility of some to the young winners of the National Spelling Bee.

Youngsters of Asian-Indian American descent have won the contest seven years in a row and all but four of the last fifteen years.

Winning the contests comes from a superhuman effort to defeat the dictionary. It means living in a culture that values that kind of competition. It means living in communities where spelling is a prized achievement.

These winning kids are American. The larger truth is that success in any field is the result of great effort, great teaching, and a supportive community.

All over the world, groups strike out at “others.” It is the story in the Middle East. It is the story in parts of Africa. In this week of Memorial Day, we should focus on how well America has done in reaching its standard – E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.”

The new spelling bee starts this week in Maryland.

Source: The Washington Post May 25, 3015

 

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