My colleague and friend Ken Girard re-published this blog on his site – recently renamed Thresholds – as “a valuable reminder of the work that needs to be done to eliminate all forms of prejudice”.
I second that emotion.
It is entitled PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – and it reads just as well today as it did on last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day…
I grew up in Grafton, Massachusetts in the 1950’s. At that time, Grafton was very rural. Small town center, dairy farms, wooden-structured schools, Boy and Girl Scouts, no supermarkets, woods, streams, fields, etc.—the whole nine yards. It was an idyllic place to grow up—very Norman Rockwellesque.
Back then, the town was overwhelmingly white. In fact, the only two African-Americans that I knew when I was a child were an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who lived across the street from us when we lived at 8 North Main Street. After school, Mrs. Smith would invite me over for cookies and milk—invitations which I readily accepted. Both of the Smiths were wonderful and I thought of them as additional grandparents. I had no awareness of the color of their skin. None.
The only prejudices that I can remember during my childhood had to do with religions and nationalities. My family were Catholics and of French Canadian stock. I can recall my mom and dad telling me that the Baptists, or the Congregationalists, or the members of any other religion, were not to be trusted. According to my parents, those folks were going to end up in hell. We could be “nice” to them, but that’s as far as it was supposed to go.
And then there was supposed to be a certain pecking order of nationalities. Of course, French was at the top, followed by the English (I guess we French still had a lot of bad feelings left over from the Hundred Years War and the Napoleonic Wars!), which then proceeded to work its way in descending order through all of the remaining European nationalities that we were aware of. As I said—overwhelmingly white.
When I compared notes with my childhood chums, their parents were telling them similar things, albeit from whatever religious and ethnic traditions they were coming from.
And it wasn’t until I went to high school, that I became aware of the prejudice about African-Americans—primarily through locker-room talk. I regret to say that I fell into it, and forgot about Mr. and Mrs. Smith. We had moved away from that part of town by then and the need for peer-acceptance was big. Not an excuse. Just what happened.
But whether it was about nationalities, religions, races, or genders, it was always about one group trying to assert their supposed and baseless superiority over another group. It was always about pride. That was the gateway. That was the open door that attempted to fill the void of insecurities. And I suspect, that’s at the root of all prejudice—adolescent or otherwise.
Then I went off to college in Boston—the big city. And there I encountered all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds.
Well, I started rebelling against all of the prejudice about nationalities and religions and races. It was the ‘60’s and I joined whole-heartedly in the national foment. It was a difficult time for our country. Everything was up for grabs. All values were being questioned and much was being thrown out with the proverbial bath water by my generation—for better or worse.
One of the good things of that time for me, however, was that I began to question and uproot the lies of prejudice that I had learned. And make no mistake, that’s exactly how prejudice happens. It’s a learned, ignorant, and malicious way of thinking and behaving toward others. One that’s utterly destructive to all concerned—including the person holding it.
We’ve seen the results of the blind, flaming whirlwinds of prejudice all too often in our country.
Hopefully, we’re all thinking about the effects of unchecked bigotry and hatred on this national holiday as we take the time to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To remember all that he, and so many others who stood for truth, equality, and freedom, did for our country and the world.
Yes, for the world. Racism is a plague that knows no borders. A plague that needs to be and must be healed for progress and all of its attendant blessings to flow to all of humanity. To every nook-and-cranny of the globe.
And for me, and so many others like me, the surest way to heal that plague—that disease—is by living the Second Great Commandment that Jesus voiced and demonstrated over two millennia ago. A commandment which can be found as a corner-stone in so many of the world’s religions. A commandment that transcends all political, social, economic, and religious views. A commandment that is at the core of all human progress.
And what is that commandment? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Isn’t it time that we all—regardless of our faith-traditions or lack thereof—endeavor to live that idea?
Ultimately, I don’t see another lasting way.
Here is a fabulous Christian Science Monitor article on 8 peaceful protests that bolstered civil rights which Martin Luther King Jr. was instrumental in. And another on how it was envisioned as a Day of Service in 1994 – a day of personal action in Dr. King’s memory.