I first published this blog post following the events of a church shooting in South Carolina. This week’s events in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, remind me once again that after decades of rhetoric, marches, legislation and educational efforts, our nation continues to be divided by the color of our skin. Although investigations behind the incidents will undoubtedly continue for months, it is obvious that multiple generations of people of all color have managed to propagate families and neighborhoods that hold tremendous bias and prejudice. In other words, we continue teaching one another to hate.
In 1999 my family moved to a suburb of Georgia in Forsyth County, where we lived for a short period of time. The subdivision was filled with corporate types, the area boasted of great schools and safe neighborhoods, and most importantly for me, a 15-minute commute to the office. During the first week of unpacking, there was a knock at the door one evening, and upon answering it, a kind elderly African-American gentleman showed an ID, and introduced himself as a local minister who had brought a group of boys to the neighborhood to sell magazines to raise money for a boys’ home in the area. I invited him in for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Karma felt right.
The gentleman saw our unpacked boxes and realized we were new to the area. He asked where we were from, and as we started to chat, he glanced at his watch and told me he needed to be aware of the time because, “When it gets dark, I’ve got to take the boys out of here because it can get dangerous for them”. Being curious and naïve, I asked him to explain why a neighborhood as safe as ours could possibly be dangerous. He told me that Cumming, George, where we lived, was the backdrop for some of the most notorious demonstrations between Civil Rights activists and the Ku Klux Klan, and that there were still plenty of people living in the area who were always “looking for a fight”. Being my first tour of living in the South, I asked him what I thought caused this continued racial rift after so many generations. His answer was simple: “We are taught to hate”. He also made a profound comment that has haunted me ever since – that in spite of the premise of most churches and religions, “Sunday is the most segregated day of the week”. It still causes me to wonder every time I think about it, which is quite often. As someone who was raised in a home of Buddhist and Confucian teaching, I have always struggled to understand the paradox of faith when practice is condoned to deviate so often from the spoken word. It bothers me even more because I know that a church is not only a place of worship, but a place of learning, and we learn not only from what we hear, but with whom we spend time.
As I read about the events that transpired this week, I can’t help but wonder how many more children this very minute are being taught to hate and despise. Parents who have spent their lives living in “small worlds” are doing their best to keep their kids in the same environment. These parents can be found in all strata of socioeconomic classes. Status-oriented parents who insist on kids attending only best boarding schools, Ivy League colleges, interacting only with the “right kind of people” so that they can keep living a privileged life are as guilty in creating bias as parents in ghettos who allow their kids to skip schools and be raised by gangs. In their own way, rationalized by their own biases, all of these parents are preventing their kids from living in a world bigger than their own, restricting interaction to meet good and bad people of all colors and backgrounds, and sheltering them from life experiences that would make them more accepting, compassionate, and self-aware. They all filter world and community events into their own set of biases that fuel the systemic prejudice that exists today.
I wonder how many more events like those that took place this week have to happen before we are moved to take action. Rhetoric seems all too familiar right now, as politicos use the story to fuel their agendas. Some are pointing to lack of gun control, and others will want to further escalate arms. Very few will address the real issue, which is how we have managed to teach another generation of people to hate. Are we truly encouraging our children to learn and appreciate people of difference or are we keeping them forever tethered to our own comfort zone? Are we using our resources to open their eyes to a bigger and more accepting world or are we explaining away why “we” are always better than “them”? Are we examining our own biases and perspectives or are we merely ranting about how the world is falling apart?
If all of us believe it’s everyone else’s fault, we are clearly doomed.