I believe in the fundamental goodness of People; in the possibility that people, when presented with an absolute truth, will take on that truth, carry that truth, and reflect that truth in changes in their lives. I believe that it’s possible to be presented with an idea, a truth, which can cause a fundamental change- a shift so strong, that the course of your life slips onto an entirely different platform, diverging away from the former, never to bear a resemblance to it again.
For me that truth presented itself as a lesson in equality. It came from the heart of my nine year-old brother, when I was six.
We grew up in New Orleans in the early sixties. Our Father was a confirmed racist. So was every adult we knew. Our Father used to say, “It is a scientific fact that the black man is inferior to the white man.” I believed him. He was my Dad.
At the time, the word which today we call the “N” word, was used as frequently and interchangeably as the word “like” is today. I used that word to describe anyone with dark skin. I also used that word to describe my brothers when they were annoying. It was an all-purpose insult for me. But there was particular venom attached to it to describe a black person. It was racism, wrapping its malicious tendrils around my six year-old soul.
My brother Bruce, older by three years, was a golden boy. You know them. Everything is easy for them; academics, athletics, social graces. Adults and children alike are drawn to these golden ones. Bruce was also gifted with uncommon kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness. Benevolent and talented he was. He grew up in the same environment as I did; yet his thinking reflected wisdom carried in with him from before the womb. How else to explain it?
I was in the third grade when one day in a conversation with Bruce, I spit out insults and poison towards those I called “niggers”. He looked at me; spoke to me in a voice calm and sound- “They’re no different than us. If you cut them, they bleed, their hearts beat just like yours.” I recall looking at his green eyes and knowing this was Truth. Truth given from the heart and mouth of a babe- a nine year-old raised in a nest of race-hatred. There was a fundamental shift in me that day.
These opportunities can occur at any time in our lives. That’s why it bothers me so much that in our current social and political climate, a person can be haunted, hunted, victimized for something they said or did five, ten, maybe twenty years ago. Aren’t we all capable of this ability take on a truth, carry that truth, reflect that truth in changes in our lives? I’m not defending anyone in particular. I just believe in the fundamental goodness of people who when presented with an absolute truth, can experience a shift in personal pedagogy that results in a life better lived.
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