Some recent events, nationally, involving the highly charged matter of race remind me of an article I wrote a number of years ago about a neighbor and others close to me who are always working to cross our ascriptive racial barriers. Dozens and dozens of emails came from people all over the country who wanted to share their personal stories of the work they were doing in their communities.
These were people from all walks of life and every political persuasion who were working diligently and without fanfare: no rewards or plaques or $100-a-plate dinners, no hanging banners; nothing but pure, hard, human endeavors. I admit to a certain embarrassment at times, because I sometimes forget myself that there are billions of people all over the world who are working diligently to ameliorate the negative effects of their “great divides.”
Though I tried to give credence to simple acts that demonstrated the best in humankind, I was roundly criticized by a number of detractors who thought I was being too generous in my acknowledgement of “those others.” Clearly their concentrations were on the color of the performers instead of the kindness in their acts. How they missed seeing “the forest for the trees.”
But being as sympathetic and as understanding as pure expression might allow, I tried to explain my doubts that there had ever been a group that had to stand alone when locked in perpetual struggle for social and political equality. In other words, no self-made men. Someone, somewhere is always opening that door. I asked them kindly to recall that because of the seeming inviolability of race, that blacks and whites had stood together during the civil rights era: all facing the same fears, the same violence and, sadly enough, the same loss of lives.
I finally concluded by telling them of a picture I once saw of a white fireman running with a black child in his arms, desperate to save that very young life; and I asked: Where was the discrimination in that act of heroism? Should race have even mattered?
Or the black youths who saved a white truck driver from certain death during the Watts riots of 1992. To my surprise, that driver later publicly forgave those rioters. As for those who intervened to save his life, though frustrated themselves, they still refused to stand idly by as witnesses to another tragic event that would have redounded to no one’s benefit.
Today, if I were writing to those same detractors, I would tell them of yet another picture before me, where conspicuously displayed on a wall in the background is “Lancaster Pride.” In the foreground are young adults amidst inexorable controversy gathering to vote (political, democratic and humanitarian savvy) to overturn a 70-year-old tradition. They were voting, not for their pride alone, but for the dignity, integrity and pride of other Americans whose rights are as equitable as their own.
Somewhere swirling in and around the controversy that enveloped their determination was the concept of race. But in the end, the dignity of “those others” proved far superior to the very personal sacrifice they were asked to make.
Words like integrity and decency will always gain the ascendancy whenever one votes with one’s soul as well as one’s intellect. Those young people were anything but myopic in their insights. For they truly saw the forest as well as the trees.