Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Horrid Burden of Hate

The Horrid Burden of Hate

This week we have all witnessed hate exploding into violent action.  We have seen clenched fists, twisted faces, and rioting mobs. We have mourned its victims.

I learned about hate many years ago. As a child, I lived in a place where racial hate was sanctioned by government actions and by the silence of religious people who hated while they taught that hate was a sin. People could be hated, not because of their anger or their cruelty but because the essence of their beings came wrapped in a dark package.

During these early years, I only encountered black people on sidewalks and in busses, brief encounters that didn’t give time for hate to fester.  Besides, I knew that hate was a sin. But I was very much afraid of them, at least until I actually came to know one of them. One morning, I was shocked to find a young black woman in my house. Mary had come to clean, and would return every week from then on. Once I got over my fear, I found that Mary was kind, and patient with me. She smiled a lot as she worked away during our hot Maryland summers. No matter how hard she was working, she always had time to answer questions from this pesky child. She banished my fears, and I came to love her. As I could never hate Mary, I could never hate her sisters and brothers because they too were black.

But when I was starting seventh grade in the University Park School, I did learn to hate. For the first time in my life, I learned what a powerful feeling hate provoked in me.  That year a new student named Herbert arrived in my school, a tall dark haired boy, a smart student, but there was something odd about his manner. He smiled a lot, but there was no humor in him. He preferred to annoy the girls at recess than to play baseball with the boys. He projected a sense of superiority and entitlement.

All of this was annoying, but no more. Irritation began to grow into a much more intense and dangerous feeling the minute Miss Burdett moved Herbert to the seat behind me. Immediately, the harassment began. First it was nasty and scornful comments whispered in my ear. Then the attacks became physical. Herbert delighted in pulling my braids so hard that my head would be yanked violently in an unexpected direction and my scalp would hurt. I didn’t dare report this to Miss Burdett as it was clear to all of us that she didn’t want to hear anything bad about Herbert.

I hated Herbert. I recognized this new feeling for what it was, but I didn’t know how to deal with this overwhelming new emotion. It was as strong in me as love. It came with me wherever I went. It even brought me pleasure. I enjoyed thinking of all the bad things I would do to Herbert or accidents that would make him suffer.

For a while, hate seemed like fun, a way to exact revenge. But slowly I realized that the other pleasures of my life, my puzzles, my books, my piano, could be ruined by a passing thought of Herbert or something that reminded me of the sound of his voice, or a word he frequently used. Finally, I realized that my hate for Herbert had given him control over my life, my joys. Hate was becoming a horrid burden. The only way I could get my life back was to give up my hate. I knew that banishing hate would take hard work, that it would require me to use my brain to subdue this emotion. But if I succeeded I would be free of Herbert’s power. This would be my ultimate victory.

This experience took place may autumns ago. But, as you can see, I have never forgotten Herbert.  How could I forget the critical lesson that I learned from the time we spent together. I hated Herbert for his cruelty and meanness. Others in our class hated Herbert not for his skin color but for his religion, the same sort of hatred that has been on display this week. 

But hatred for skin color is still on display as well. We have but to look at the hatred directed toward our black president. Haters now are more subtle than they were during my childhood. Now they excuse their hatred on the grounds that it isn’t based on his race, but on what is inside him, on what is the character of his heart. He is a cheater who lied his way to power; he is a traitor who loves and supports our enemies; he is a weak and stupid leader for these hard times.

Most Americans know that this portrait of President Obama is a fictitious invention, designed to give the gullible permission to hate him. But lying about President Obama is a useful tactic. By rousing such an intense emotion, people can to motivated to act from passion rather than careful thought. The people of our country can be divided into hostile groups. Then, leaders lacking an ethical or moral core can rise to positions of power.

Now is the time for all of us to cast aside the horrid hate, be it religious or racial, that is flowing across our country. I know it is possible to push hate away. I learned that in elementary school when I met Herbert. I know all of you who carry the burden of hate can do so as well. We can do nothing else that will be more personally liberating or beneficial for our country.

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