Hate is learned.
We are not born knowing how to hate.
We are taught to hate.
Our teachers are our parents, our relatives, our friends, our culture, our religion, the media.
My daughter Maddie started learning what it meant to be different when she was in second grade. It was Black History Month, and her teacher read the class a story about Ruby Bridges and her integration into an all-white school. When Maddie ran through the door that afternoon, her first words were, “Momma, did you know Makai has brown skin?” I answered yes, and she said, “In the olden days, Makai wouldn’t have been able to go to school with me because he has brown skin!” Makai had been her best friend since kindergarten. She was so visibly upset by the idea that if she were going to school during Ruby Bridges’ time, she would not have been able to attend school with Makai, let alone be friends with him. I reassured her that the world was not like that anymore, and she did not have to worry because Makai was in her class. I was so worried about reassuring Maddie that I missed the bigger lesson: before this event, Maddie did not realize that Makai was different from her in any way. His skin color meant nothing to her. Makai was her friend, and that’s all that mattered.
When my daughters were little, they were unaware of many of the differences that separated them from other members of society. Likewise, neither girl understood that people of different races or cultures were not always treated equally. They were mesmerized by the colorful hijabs that were worn by the mothers of their classmates. At their friends’ birthday parties, they loved eating the ethnic foods that didn’t get served at their own house. Furthermore, although both daughters had fine, straight hair, they couldn’t understand why cornrows wouldn’t stay in their hair like their African American friends. Neither Maddie nor Abbie realized that the characteristics that they found unique and desireable could also be the cause of discrimination.
Unfortunately as my girls have grown older, they’ve both witnessed and experienced discrimination. Most of it has occurred at school. Maddie has been on the receiving end of sexist comments from male students and teachers. She has witnessed LGBTQ friends get bullied by the other kids at school. Abbie has defended her friends when they’ve been judged for their race, social status, and even for ongoing mental health issues. My kids used to love school, but now it’s become more of a battleground. On days when they are sick and tired of dealing with the harassment, I tell them that when they get older and go to college, they will meet people who are more accepting and open-minded. Then I watch the news, and see what’s happening in Orlando, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, and Dallas; I hear people like Donald Trump spewing xenophobic remarks about Mexicans and Muslims; it seems as though there is too much hate to overcome. I worry that there aren’t enough just and loving people to counteract it.
I’m not sure if there’s more bigotry now than there was when I was growing up, or if it’s just more obvious. There is one thing of which I’m certain: my girls were not born knowing the proper way to treat other human beings. They’ve learned acceptance and compassion from watching the adult role models they have been surrounded by since birth. Even now, as teenagers, the conduct they observe helps them determine the qualities they want to possess as adults. So when I hear people state that nothing can be done to end the racial, social, and cultural divides in our country, I tell them I disagree. We all have an important role to play in making change happen. In 1946, Albert Einstein made a statement which he titled “The Negro Question.” Even though Einstein knew first hand what it was like to suffer from the anti-semitism that was all too common in the United States during his time, he also was a witness to the racism against African Americans. In this text he stated:
A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is tradition—besides inherited aptitudes and qualities—which makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect how relatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of our conscious thought upon our conduct and convictions…
…What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.
What can we do to end the cycle of hate? Listen to Albert Einstein and set an example by word and deed. Show the children in our lives how to be compassionate, tolerant, patient, understanding, empathetic, and kind through our actions. Treat everyone with the respect that all human beings deserve. Not just human beings who are a certain color, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or social class- EVERYONE. If we all made an effort to do this, imagine the difference we could make in our communities and the world.
We are all teachers.
Our children will follow our lead.
Let’s teach them to love.