Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hate Story

Remember Love Story? That maudlin, sentimental movie whose tag line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In my experience, love seems to mean always having to say you’re sorry! J We never love as fully, as deeply, as consistently as we— or our partner—think we should. And that’s what keeps things interesting.

But reflecting on the recent turn of events, it seems that “hate means never having to say you’re sorry.” 150 years after our country reached the level of civilization where it finally decided it was illegal to buy and sell human beings and tear their families apart and enslave them and beat them and rape them and get rich off their free labor. And yet the Confederate Flag still flies over Southern government buildings as an emblem of some nostalgic plantation era when freedom meant that no outsiders (read Northerners) could change a way of life just because that life happened to involve relentless systematic brutality against fellow human beings.

It seemed to be just fine for the plantation owners, for the ministers and priests, for the scientists, for the schoolteachers, for the politicians, for the judges and juries— well, if they were white.  It even seemed to be fine for poor white folks who were happy to be one rung higher than the bottom. They're the ones who kept it all going, came up with the Bible quotes and scientific theories of racial inequality and separate-but-equal lies. The only people who weren’t so thrilled with the system were the black folks. But not if you watched the minstrel shows or listened to songs like Old Black Joe or saw the images of the happy slaves eating watermelon and dancing. Really, every thing was lined up so perfectly to get prosperous from the suffering of others all the while thinking that you were helping them improve their situation from their heathen existence in Africa. And then those darn Northerners came in and ruined the whole deal.

Okay, I know that racism exists and existed in the North, the East, the West and all other compass points in-between, but let’s stick with the South for now. Why are those Confederate flags still flying? Why is it so hard to say “I’m sorry?” What is so difficult about acknowledging that one’s ancestors were caught up in a culture that gave permission for things that we now know are wrong? And that all the symbols of such need to die their natural death.  What’s in it for the descendants to keep the story going?

Everyone will spin the Charleston story according to their own back story and mine is that this was a failure of education to change a story that needs to stop. This young killer went to schools that failed to help him turn that story around, that somehow let it continue unquestioned. Not just schools, of course. His family, his neighbors, his church, his e-mail chat groups, his gun dealer and so on. But I’m a teacher, so let’s stick with schools. A kid who might have been nurtured toward his higher promise and taught how to empathize and understand and reach out and receive all the gifts of widening one’s friends to include folks with other backgrounds and points of views was allowed to continue a story that shut down his heart and mind and took life away from nine innocent people.

My school’s mission is to cultivate the imaginative, intellectual and humanitarian promise of each child and never has that seemed so vital that every school do the same. For ultimately hatred is a failure of imagination, a failure to imagine the other as vibrant, alive, worthy of life and worthy of potential friendship. It is a failure of the intellect, the ability to connect the dots of all the political and social forces that makes good people do bad things, to recognize these destructive patterns and give us power over them. It is certainly a failure of our humanitarian promise, our heart’s ability to care and appreciate and love. Don’t you think that every kid, already filled with imagination, curiosity and empathy, would like the chance to grow a life with those at the center, be given a life-giving story that widens and includes rather than narrows and excludes?

My forty years of work with kids (and adults) says, “Yes, yes and again, yes!” And that begins with enough intellectual fervor, imaginative creativity and humanitarian courage to change those stories and stop feeding them. For 150 years, generation after generation has continued to keep those hurtful stories alive, without apology. It’s time to say “I’m sorry” and get to work telling the stories that nurture and sustain and enhance life. In the home, in the workplace, in the seats of power and most importantly, in the schools where innocent young children can grow to compassionate adults. 

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