Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Barbed Hook of Racism

I’ve never fished in my life, but when my grandkids asked me to go with them and their Uncle Barclay to watch them fish, I figured I’d be with them for a bit before my daily swim. In casting, Malik managed to get his line caught in a tree branch and when I helped to untangle it, I ended up with a fish hook stuck in my finger. Seemed like a simple matter to just pull it out. Little did I know.

Turns out that the hooks have a barb, a kind of small t that happens once the hook is embedded so you can’t simply remove it the way you would a sewing needle stuck in your finger. Luckily, Uncle Barclay was not only an experienced fisherman, but a doctor who had removed several such hooks before. But there was a difference here. This was to be his first operation without anesthesia. And without his usual tools. Lucky me.

So while he was working on it and my wife and daughter were trying to help, but growing pale at the sight, I couldn’t help think about that barb in the context of our unabated 400 years of systematic racism. That hook stuck in our collective finger that we can’t seem to pull out. A long ago and as recent as yesterday lust for gold joined with the technology of guns and the permission granted by the God we invented to create and sustain a narrative that we now call white supremacy. Gold, guns and God pretty much sums up the conquistador terror, the Native American genocide, the African systematic slavery, the story that keeps on going in today’s news, the barb that prevents any simple ways to pull out the hook.

Now if you’re squeamish, you might want to sit down. What was the strategy for getting the hook out? The opposite of what you imagine. Pushing it into the finger so the barbed part could come out the other side and then all of it pulled through. Without anesthesia. Was it painful? Yes, it was. Was it necessary to go into the finger deeper, go towards rather than away from that barbed story? Yes, it was. Did it finally work? Yes, it did.

I did almost faint from the pain and had to lie down and my wife rushed to town to get antibiotics to prevent further infection. But an hour later, I was in the lake swimming. 

Why did this happen? Who knows? But at least I got a useful metaphor out of it. And remember that getting out the hook of systematic racism doesn’t need to hurt quite so much—there is some anesthesia available. Don’t be afraid of it. And the pain we will suffer from going into the finger is nothing like the pain millions have suffered and still suffer from our refusal to do so. 

Happy fishing.


  1. Great story and insightful comparison to the current moment and our history.

  2. Your analogy is quite apt. I believe as a nation we have removed for the most part the self inflicted wounds of our past. What we are experiencing is the pain of pulling it out. What we need to do is to HEAL and LEARN from our past, and endure it doesn’t happen again. Your work as an educator has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of humans to create a better world for everyone. Peace.


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