With all that I’ve had to say lately and in the somewhat distant past about the need for a more loving world where diversity is appreciated, I’ve tried to point out, perhaps indirectly, that schools should be places that model how our world could be. I’m a proponent of Ethnic Studies for that very reason: they promote the building of a better world.
I’ve broached such notions of love because it is my duty as an educator to open minds to ideal possibilities. If nothing else is required of a teacher he or she should be a loving human being who is willing to reach out to a diverse collection of humanity.
Now the journey to becoming a loving man was, for me, at times quite a rocky one as it often is with black people in a color-conscious society. But a master mentor helped me along the way: my Granddaddy.
Granddaddy would often heal the wounds that I suffered growing up in Tucson back in the ’40s and ’50s by sitting me at his knee and teaching me the ins and outs of love.
He helped me resist the overwhelming urge I often had to scream and lash out at the world with the full force of my anger. He would settle me down when I would rush home sometimes, out of breath, letting my bike fall to the ground, fighting back tears, yelling from my soul to the top of my voice, “I hate white people!” Those were times when some white person had called me a name or had looked at me as though I carried diseases that would destroy humankind.
He would say, “Now, wait a minute, boy. Tell me something. Does the man at Ronstadt’s hardware store treat you with disrespect?”
“Does that woman at the library who’s always telling you about a good book to read and then puts a star on the wall next to each book you read – does she deserve your hatred?”
“How about that man at Safeway who always cuts you a piece of fresh fruit? You gonna make him into a bad person?”
“The man at the drugstore who always gives you a little extra ice cream in your root beer float?”
“Well, see, you ain’t mad at ‘white people’; you’re mad at a ‘white person,’ the white person who called you a name. Now tell me, am I right or wrong? Huh?”
“You’re right, Granddaddy.”
At that point he’d give me a noogie and say, with his big laugh, “Course, I’m right. I’m always right.”
Then he’d most likely proceed with telling me about how he rose one morning when he was 15, determined not to live one more day under somebody else’s dominance. Slavery had ended a few years before but that didn’t seem to matter to the folks who ran the plantation in Hawkinsville, Georgia where he grew up as a sharecropper.
On that particular morning he knocked the foreman off his horse to the ground and ran away, never to see his folks again.
As he ran and hid in little southern towns, he learned a lot about people, in general. He found, to his dismay, that there were a few black people who wouldn’t lend him a hand; they were afraid of what could happen to them if they were caught. And he found, to his surprise, that there were a few white people who would feed him and say to him, “Now you can stay here out of the way today and tonight we’ll look out for you and tell you when there might be a good time to go.”
“My, my, my,” Granddaddy would say, “Up to then the only white people I knew were mean and hateful; I didn’t know that they could be loving and kind. So I learned not to jump to conclusions about people based on the color of their skin.”
Then he would tell me about his seafaring days traveling all over the world, meeting people of every color and creed imaginable. He’d say “Some of those people were ornery as can be, but there were many who were good to know and associate with. There are a lot of loving people of all sorts all around the world, boy. Don’t condemn somebody for the sins of others of their kind. Keep an open mind. Don’t ever miss opportunities to love or be loved.”
Every time I sat at that man’s knee I reached newer and richer levels of human development. I became better able to love and be loved. By the time I became an educator I had learned, because of the legacy that Granddaddy left me, to get past people’s differences, understanding that everyone needs to be loved and respected no matter what their color, culture, or class. In my work I don’t think there’s a better lesson I could have learned.