We've got to be carefully taught to hate and fear
The concern raised about critical race theory—learning about the impact of racism on systems and people—calls us to look at how, as a song from the musical "South Pacific" says, we've been "carefully taught to hate and fear," "from year to year" about people whose eye shapes and skin tones differ from ours. We know that teaching impairs empathy and impedes love. What might happen if "we're" not taught that? We might become a glorious multicultural, multiracial society with people who care about each other.
For those who have been carefully taught, it's necessary to teach more than one point of view about what, as Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald, says, is the "story of treating other people inhumanely, enslaving the Africans, killing the indigenous, deporting the Mexicans, imprisoning the Japanese." He asks, "How can we do it justice without making white children feel, well…bad?"
Are white children/people too fragile to have their empathy and solidarity with suffering people aroused, to have their indignity about injustice and oppression awakened?
Leonard goes on to tell about his daughter at age five putting her arm beside his and declaring she was "tan, not black." I remember a five-year-old in a black family I visited in 1968 near Boston—probably having been told a "white" couple was visiting—asked me what color I was. I looked at my arm and said, "pink."
By then I had been involved in 1960s civil rights protests and growing awareness that my great-great grandfather was part Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). I learned two years ago he was sold by his white father as an indentured "servant."
My journey to interracial, intercultural awakening was beginning. I'm thankful for that learning. In eighth grade, I sat for weeks right next to a bulletin board with photos of Holocaust genocide victims. The injustice of those mass murders stuck with me as I later lived and studied six months in Vienna, Austria, and heard my Vienna mother tell of her struggles through and after World War II. Buildings were still damaged in 1966 and walls were still riddled with bullet holes. I saw what enemy images do and grew more committed to peace.
In 1985, 40 years after that war, I visited West and East Germany, then divided, and saw how enemy images lingered as tools of propaganda to keep people divided and suspicious so politicians can hold their grip on power by repeating lies so often they seemed almost true.
I saw colorful, insightful graffiti on the West side of the Berlin Wall and the white, barren East side of the wall. The color was in red banners saying, "Communism makes you free." It didn't look free to me. It didn't feel free to the people I met. Education content and voting was controlled by those wanting to maintain their power.
Those wanting an iron grip on power, however, lost it. Churches opened doors to visits with groups like ours that broke through enemy images. The people knew. They wanted to be free. They broke through the walls that divided their society and families. Those in power had to let the wall fall—then claimed they did it.
We've got to be carefully taught what lies couched as truth are. Repeated often enough, some people may want to keep on blinders about slavery, genocide, deportations and internment. Even children can understand—before they are carefully taught to hate and fear, from year to year, having it drummed in their dear little ears.
Isn't learning to hate and fear a precursor to inequities, taunting, war and genocides? Instead, how might we change if we learn what happened in history, what happens and what will happen if we live into the love and freedom from fear that a baby born long ago brought into our world?
To enter that love in this season when we often talk of light and dark, may we be cautious about equating "light" with good and "dark" with bad. It's a way to avoid "carefully teaching," as we preach and teach faith. We can use nouns, like "evil," "uncertainty," "joy" or "hope" without "light" or "dark" as adjectives. It may be a simple step toward birth into a new way of being, seeing and loving.
Mary Stamp - Editor