Growing up in the deep south during a time of racial tension taught me some of my greatest life lessons. Some of those lessons, I would prefer to forget, but they are forever etched in my mind’s eye. I recall one particular cool evening in Mississippi as if it were yesterday.My siblings and I were riding our bikes in the parking lot of the small church parking lot when our My father yelled for us to get inside and go directly to our rooms and not come out until he said so. We knew. We knew by the sound of the silence that the Klan was on its way down the street. We knew our father wanted to shield us from such demonstrated hate. Dad was a man of God, who preached love and kindness regardless of skin color. He did not see the outward color of anyone’s skin, but rather the condition of their soul…..
As the Klan marched by our house, my twin brother and I peered from the window ( dad didn’t say we couldn’t look out the window), watching as they pounded the pavement, moving swiftly by . My brother whispered to me, ” look at that one in the middle, his shoes are ugly”. Sure enough, most of the klansmen were wearing black or brown boots, all but the guy in the middle. His shoes were more along the lines of we had seen the men in church wear, the black ties up shoes….with white socks. Ad his robe flapped with his movements, his black shoes and white socks were more than noticeable. ” He needs a longer robe or different socks, he looks stupid”, another brother chimed in. Here we were, three young kids, making fun of a man who was filled with hate and was happy to demonstrate it against anyone ,at any time.
” Get away from that window and go sit on the couch until I tell you to get up”, my dad firmly said, having caught us gawking out the window. My older brother motioned for dad to come closer and look at the ” one with white socks and black shoes”.
” He looks stupid, not scary”, my brother commented as dad pulled the roller shade down.
Over the years, I have encountered many people who have used the words, “I hate him/her”. One particular instance was a daughter of a dementia patient in my facility. According to her, her father was an abusive, evil man who tormented her as a child. ” I hate him, I just hate him” she was say each time she came into the facility. Her father was confused, frail and had no idea of his surroundings due to the progression of the disease process. I finally asked her the question…. “why do you come visit him if you dislike him so much”? Her reply? ” Because he is my father.” You see, what this daughter was feeling, was not inward hate, but rather outward expression. She hated what he did to her, but still deep down, cared for him. Otherwise, she would have never darkened the door of the facility to come see him.
I believe hate is either an emotion that is taught to us by someone, or a negative feeling due to an experienced life event, that we allow to fester and brew for a period of time, that spirals out of control, turning into hate. I know that is a confusing sentence. REad it again. The Klan, for example, is “taught hate”. The people they “hated” had no justification for their hatred. The daughter who “hated” her father for what he did to her, well that’s a blister that finally festered and manifested itself as hate.
Regardless of how hate if formed, created or expressed, it is the most powerful force in the universe. The goofy klansman with his Sunday shoes and white socks, marched along-side the others, unaware that there three little kids who sat in a window, poking fun at him. The same three kids, who on Sunday morning saw a man in church with black shoes and white socks, shaking hands with our dad…… As he walked out of the church, my brother raced over to my dad and whispered…”look dad, look at his socks….”
My dad was not sure what the significance of the man’s socks was, until he bent over and listened to my brother’s soft whispers in his ear. He turned and watched the man walk away…..looking back at the three of us. Later that day, my father called us to the living room.
” Kids, I know what you all think you saw in church this morning. You do not know anything about a man based on the color of his shoes or socks. As you grow older, you will learn that people will judge others based on outward appearances…the clothes they wear, the schools they went to and the color of their skin…all outward things, just like the man’s socks and shoes. It is my hope that I will raise each of you to look at the inner man, the things that are on the inside of a person, before you judge him. You are judging this man in church this morning, the same way he judges others.”
Forty years have come and gone since that conversation took place, but it has never left my mind. I find myself glancing at people’s socks in the grocery store, the mall and even in church. Often times when I am about to explode on a person with anger for whatever reason, my eyes glance downward, as if they were trained to “sock check” anyone that provoked me……strange I know.
The moral of this story? It’s simple. Don’t allow anyone to teach you how to hate anything but hate. Learned hate is a cycle that is passed on generation to generation, unbroken. Judgement should never be passed on another for any reason….especially based on the color of skin……or of his socks……..…..