EIFLER: Follow the leader

During this Christmas season, millions of teens will be begging for a Play Station 3 because it’s the newest craze in video games. Others will be asking for the trendiest iPod. Little girls will wish for the prettiest new dolls, while little boys will hope for the most complicated action figures, just as they have for years. Children and teenagers will light up at the sight of these presents and will be devastated without. Popularity drives the need to follow the trend, but only a few individuals have the privilege of setting the trend. The rest of us follow.

Following the consumer trends isn’t necessarily damaging, although the actions Americans are willing to take for the most popular Christmas toy can sometimes be alarming. Americans tend to go overboard, but the rush to checkouts isn’t absolutely shocking.

In some cases outside the consumer world, this pattern is necessary. If every individual chose to follow his or her own original path, absolutely no progress would be made within politics, education, the economy, the workplace or any other activity requiring group participation and compromise.

What is harmful, however, is the way individuals so quickly and willingly embrace the popular views of society. In various times throughout history, radical views of the few elite leaders led to strong proportions of society embracing destructive views without second thought.

For example, white children who attended public schools during the Civil Rights Movement accepted the idea that blacks were inferior because their parents or other authoritative adult figures so passionately held the belief. Thankfully, forced integration was eventually implemented in the South, and the popularity of segregation slowly faded. Since then, with each successive generation, a layer of racist attitude is shed into the past.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the acceptance of integration was a result of the change of personal morals. Instead, I believe the change was a result of individuals having to adapt to a changing society led by a few elitists.

It’s easy to claim that such severe racism toward a minority could never again happen in American society because collectively, we would know better.

But if that is the claim, wouldn’t we have known better in our treatment of blacks in the early 20th century?

What would happen in this country if society were led by an individual who quietly but assertively supported racist legislation toward Hispanics?

Hundreds of thousands of individuals in this country already feel Hispanics don’t belong in the United States for one reason or another, so a strong prejudice is already in place.

What if a movement against Hispanics slowly became popular through the leadership of one or two individuals? Would it be possible for this movement to spread to another state and eventually through entire regions?

It would be much easier and comforting to answer undoubtedly no, but the answer isn’t so simple.

The pattern in this country is to follow the trend of a few elite leaders and not go against the grain, and although most of the time this pattern is harmless, one day it could again lead to inhumane treatment of innocent people.

Ask yourself this question: Who would you have been during the Civil Rights Movement? Would you have been one of the courageous, often harassed individuals pushing for equity? Or would you have followed the trend in the South and instead become a segregationist, attacking men, women and children simply because they were born with a different skin color? Clearly we would like to think of ourselves as the former rather than the latter, but standing alone is painful and difficult – sometimes too difficult to do the right thing.

Stephanie Eifler is a sophomore in pre-journalism and mass communication from Carroll.