By Khimm Graham
Some years ago I worked in the city, blocks from my house, as a florist in a busy, old East Side shop. Our neighborhood was deteriorating and houses repeatedly flipped from out of town online investors contributed to the complex issues of poverty, an aging population and changing demographics. But we were hanging on and trying to survive, hopeful that improvements were on the horizon.
A young co-worker who joined our well-established, close-knit group used to chase unchaperoned children out of the store – convinced their only motive was stealing. I thought they were curious. So I started answering their innocent questions and introduced them to flowers. Many started to buy a bloom or two after school, scraping together nickels and dimes for the sweet scent of one carnation. They brought me odd jars to fill or a bottle for a bud. Being kind took little time.
Annoyed with my efforts to embrace and educate the kids in town, my young co-worker decided to educate me, flashing a skinhead newspaper across my work bench.
"What's this?" I asked.
"This is what they call you – a cracker!" she answered, opening the Nazi rag to my attention. A swastika on the page seared my vision and sent a chill up my spine. I told her that I never heard the word before and demanded she remove the hateful publication from my view. She continued her rant, trying to convince me that some asinine supremacy in the name of God was compelling under the guise of irrational extremism. Little children drew her blood and solidified her venom. I ended the endless discourse and quietly called my employer.
We were immediately separated and rescheduled until her untimely exit and I continued to serve the community which included tiny patrons of little posies.
It's hard to believe that this hatred against each other lives on from decade to decade and simmers with new life today. The recent display of torches lit in Charlottesville burning chants of "blood and soil" seems surrealistic against the colors of our flag. How does hate persist in the shadow of historical abominations like the Third Reich and the KKK? When will we be absolved of this ugly battle for righteousness when regressive change resists the good grace of our democracy. To be poor and hungry has become disgraceful. To be an immigrant is questionable and difficult in a country of immigrants.
My father had a slur for every race, creed and color. Growing up in the 1960s, I too was carefully taught. Dad would swerve the family car into people of any other color – swearing out the window – reciting nasty rhymes and laughing at startled pedestrians. I sat in the back seat with tiny white knuckles clutching my knees, listening and learning to loathe ... him and everything he professed. I learned to hear dog whistles shouting whispers of racism and knew it was wrong. The words tasted like bitter poison and I was spoon-fed daily. It hurt like a blow to the stomach and contradicted my catechism.
I don't know how to remedy the covert conversation. Call me unrealistic, but I still believe that what is deep in our collective soul eventually rises to fight for the best and good conquers evil. I believe that love is innocent and children are wise in the image of blind mirrors. And I believe that today a new generation will lead us out of darkness because enough is finally enough.
If I'm wrong, God help us for then we are the lesser nation and the world cannot follow our example of equality.
Khimm Graham finds it hard to believe that hatred is so indestructible.