This Halloween, instead of being frightened by imaginary spooks, Americans are shivering at the thought of foreclosures or layoffs, wondering whether the right man for the job will be elected, and if the world will soon become a better or worse place.
In a world of melting icebergs and glaciers and rapidly disappearing species, sometimes it's hard not to feel the shiver of real fear. Will humans endure on an Earth depleted of its natural balance?
But the scariest thing I've seen this Halloween season, the most terrifying issue of all, is the prejudice sweeping the nation right now and the fact that so many are shrugging it off. We are supposed to be a country that accepts all religions, races, and creeds; we are supposed to be a melting pot. But the clock is being turned back at one party's rallies with comments like, "Obama-Osama: one and the same" and "When you've got a negro running for president, he's not a first-stringer."
And what is the Republican vice presidential candidate's response to such comments? "It's not negativity. It's truthfulness."
This is by far the biggest monster under the bed right now, and it's a scandal that more Americans are not standing up to it. Americans are not supposed to blindly judge their fellow countrymen on the basis of name, skin color, or religion. But it's easier to blame someone, to find some reason to hate someone in order to alleviate our fears and make us feel safer.
This is the worst possible scenario for America's future. We need to accept one another as we are, knowing we are all Americans, here to help keep the grand experiment of our Founding Fathers alive and evolving, practicing tolerance and understanding, and knowing that not one of us is above any other because of our religious beliefs, the color of our skin, or the country our family may have come from.
In these frightening times, we need to work together. Allowing hatred and bigotry to overtake us because of our fear will spell certain disaster for our country.
In the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a dream, one that I realized as I grew up in a school system in the American South. My friends were black, white, Vietnamese, and Hispanic, and we all went to class together and learned together and loved and fought and grew together as children.
No one had any cause for blind hatred, and if they did, they were ignored or scoffed at, because the important thing was to get through adolescence and high school and make it to adulthood. Skin color or religion had nothing to do with it.
Now, hearing the shouts from the crowds at Republican rallies and being assaulted with offensive e-mails about Barack "Hussein" Obama, I recognize the new catchword for hatred is "terrorist." It is shameful to see so many Americans toss it about so lightly.
We all have to live in America, within a functioning democracy. Being unafraid of the monsters in our lives and refusing to allow fear to grip and control us will be the only way to get through this tough era — and remembering that we are all created equal.
This Halloween, maybe I will dress myself in the costume of another culture and head out into this scary world knowing I could be hated for looking different. It would be one way of showing I still have faith that my fellow Americans can rise above hatred and bigotry to see me as their equal and not as a source of fear in these troubled times.
A native Memphian, Reilly Neill is the publisher of Livingston Weekly in Livingston, Montana.