I’m in the midst of doing my annual clean my office purge to start the new school year and one of the wonderful things about being a professor is that students, colleagues, and friends often come “bearing gifts.” Many of my students from Asian countries celebrate “Teachers Day” by bringing a small token (not a bad idea US students!) of appreciation. This past summer a former visiting scholar from Capetown, South Africa stopped by for me to meet his son who is about to graduate from college and would like to study medical oncology at my university. The scholar came loaded with wonderful South African remembrances. One was a poster and in my busyness I had not taken the time to unroll it. However, today in my frantic clean up I opened it and saw it was a poster of Nelson Mandela. Above the photo of this amazing man were the words, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
In the wake of all that has transpired in Ferguson, MO after the shooting of Mike Brown, Jr. I can’t think of a more prescient sentiment. Yet, my social media pages have been flooded with news items of school districts that will NOT permit teachers to teach about the events associated with Ferguson, MO. If you want to know how we “teach hate” we do it by ignoring the reality of inequity that surrounds us. We teach it when we exclude certain people from our friendship circles. We teach it when we do not interrupt ignorant comments and behavior based on hate and ignorance.
Novelist and public intellectual Toni Morrison says the instruction one needs to become a racist is truly pathological. You have to tell people things that they can plainly see are not true. Just as Hitler had to leave the Olympic stadium during the German games because sprinter Jesse Owens proved convincingly that there was nothing superior associated with being “Aryan.” His departure reminded me of my late father’s often repeated question…”Who you gonna believe…me or your lyin’ eyes?”
Over the past few weeks I have tried to distract myself from the pain of Ferguson because I really refuse to reduce myself to the level of hate that I have seen and heard expressed by people who think Mike Brown, Jr. got what he deserved. The bottom line is that he was somebody’s child…yes CHILD and that mother will have to endure the long nights endured by countless other mothers.
So, to remind myself of the humanity I am obligated to exhibit each and every day I have taped the Mandela poster to my office door. Each day I show up for work as I place the key in the door I will gaze upon it and say to myself…”Yeah, what he said!”
Stay Black & Smart!