The other day I was picking up Ava (one of the girls I nanny) from school. I often wait for her by the front of the school, and there is an older man who often talks to me while I wait. He has always been friendly and inquires about my day and my life. When he approached me on this particular day, he asked me if I had watched the Superbowl and I told him that while I don’t care for football, I did love basketball.
He then told me that he couldn’t stand basketball and he only liked football a little. Then he leaned close to me and whispered, “Too many blacks. I can’t stand the way blacks act.”
WHAT?! I have never, ever heard someone say such a racist, disgusting thing in my life. I honestly did not even comprehend what he was saying because I was so startled. At that moment, his little granddaughter ran up to him and he picked her up in a big hug. He called her a princess and asked her about her day. He held her hand in his and took her backpack, walking to the car.
I stood there in absolute shock. So many thoughts were racing through my head. Just that day I had written a post about words and the power they have. To my shame, I did not say anything powerful back to that man. I still can’t figure out what I should have said in the face of such pure racism. How do you respond in such a way as to make a difference without just using hate words back?
They have such power. Power to build up, power to destroy. The saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me is not true at all. Words hurt. Because words reflect attitudes. People will fill the boxes we make for them. Whether our expectations bring them up or drag them down, others often fulfill the stereotypes we set for them. That’s what is so wrong with our culture. How will we ever break the hate cycle if we keep using hate words? That man will pass on his attitudes to his granddaughter, who will pass it on to her friends, who will continue to pass it on.
I can’t wrap my head around the fact that a man who could be so sweet and caring to his little granddaughter could be so hateful toward an entire race. I guess the point is that it isn’t just members of the Ku Klux Klan that hold these attitudes; it is people we know and see every day. It isn’t because those people so evil and stupid that they believe a stereotype that simply isn’t true, it is because of the insidious way that those stereotypes are passed along. Which is why it is so dangerous to us—stereotypes can become ingrained in us without us even realizing it. If we look at a black person and believe that they will have “bad behavior” or a blonde girl and expect her to be dumb, that is what we will see. We pass that on. The hate continues.
Think of how many times we have done the same, judging others before we know them. Assuming things about them just because of who they are or what they look like. We can’t change the world. I don’t have the answers on how to stop the hate cycle. But at least we can stop it in ourselves.