This blog is the continuation of a previous post
On Aug 16, 2017, a few days after the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, VA this tweet became the most liked tweet in Twitter’s short history. It’s a quote lifted out of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom that continues, “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It’s a sentiment that we would like to believe is true. People aren’t inherently racist. We want to believe that racism is a bad choice, but it’s something that we can change. It’s something that isn’t permanent. Hating someone because of the colour of their skin is a learned behaviour and it can be corrected.
There is a sense in which that is true; Racism is a sophisticated kind of hate that small children seem incapable of. We’ve all see children of different ethnic backgrounds get along and we’ve wondered why it seems so much harder when we are older. Mistrust is learned and it can be unlearned, but there is a fact about human nature that is often missed in this wishful thinking.
Humans are selfish, right out of the chute. Anybody who knows a two-year-old will tell you that humans are naturally wired to be jerks. I recall years ago when I had a two-year-old, that he had a brief period where he was biting others. As God as my witness I can tell you, with full honesty, he didn’t learn that from me. When we are angry, both Julie and I never bite. Our son did not learn that behaviour from us. That came out of his own bent humanity.
The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact and the most intellectually resisted. -Malcom Muggeridge
The Bible suggests that the world was created beautiful, but sin entered the world and has fractured everything. Since then we are born “bent,” at least according to Psalm 51:5. We are born selfish and have to work against our natural inclination. But the good news is that people aren’t permanently hateful. We are not lost because of sin. Jesus came to earth to show us a better way and died on the cross to win victory over death and over the hateful way of life we were stuck in. Through Jesus, and through the influence of God’s Holy Spirit, we can learn to forgive and learn to love—even to love our enemies.
I saw a documentary this week that absolutely rocked my world. It’s called “Accidental Courtesy” (available on iTunes and on Netflix) and it is the story of an African American man named Daryl Davis, a musician, that began a personal journey of discovery to answer the question, “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” In the documentary, you follow him as he talks to white nationalists, members of the KKK, and neo-Nazis. He learns about the different movements within these white supremacist or white separatist groups and something remarkable starts to happen. To be sure, there are many in these groups that remain hateful, and spiteful towards people of colour, but some of them are disarmed when Davis reaches out to them. Over a number of years, they have developed a relationship with Daryl that ultimately leads to some of them leaving the KKK.
In 26 years Davis has collected dozens of white robes and other racist paraphernalia from enemies who have become friends and can no longer continue to be members of the KKK. Through friendship and conversation some, though certainly not all, of the people Daryl has talked to have changed. One of the takeaways of the documentary is that people can change.
The other take away is a little more sobering. At the end of the documentary Davis meets Black Lives Matter Activists who cannot understand why Davis is willing to even speak to members of racist organizations. They angrily confront him and tell him he is not welcome in their cause; He is not welcome in their city. In an eerie moment at the end of the film, one activist speaks exactly the same hateful speech that we previously heard coming out of a white supremist’s mouth. Hate knows no boundaries; it is on both sides of the colour line.
Accidental Courtesy reminds us that emphatic responses, no matter how righteous they are, do not change anything. Racial reconciliation will not come through opposition only. We must all stand against injustice, stand against dehumanizing speech and action without apology or equivocation, but at the same time, in order to move forward, we need to do more than protest. We need to hear each other.
The only thing that is going to matter at the end of the day is whether or not you can find a conversation partner that doesn’t agree with you and then honestly try to understand them. That is what will make the greatest change, but be warned: it is not an easy fix. There are no protests, no counter protests that are going to singlehandedly solve the problem of race in Canada and America. The only thing that is going to make a lasting difference is if you can humbly talk to someone you don’t agree with and try to understand things from their perspective.
So, my challenge is this: if you have a Facebook post that just made your blood boil, DM the person who posted it and try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. It takes a lot of courage, but you may learn that you aren’t as far apart on this issue as you thought you were. At the very least you will humanize the other and, as a result, you might make a friend. You might even set someone free.