Hate and racism are futile and tragic

Published 6:16 am Sunday, April 29, 2012

Column: Paths to Peace, by Ross Pirsig

Albert Miller Lea was a colonel for the South in the Civil War. As luck would have it, he ended up fighting in a battle against his son, Edward, a Union lieutenant, during in the Civil War. His son literally died in his arms.

It is fascinating that the only war we, as a nation, have fought against ourselves was provoked by the election of a president who was eventually against the enslavement of African-Americans. Uncle fought against nephew, brother against brother, and, in the case of Albert and Edward Lea, father against son. It was mostly because some believed the enslavement of black men, women and children should continue and some didn’t.

Ross Pirsig

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The Civil War is one of the many U.S. historical events that shows the huge role race has played on shaping this country. Beforehand, many politicians and slave owners needed to perpetuate some idea that would allow them to encage and exploit millions of black people. The argument for slavery was essentially that black people were subhuman because they were black and were only fit to be ruled by whites. From when it started until the Civil War, slavery quickly became the U.S.’s lifeblood to economic prosperity and stability.

Some of you might be thinking: So what? Slavery and the Civil War happened so long ago; we’ve moved past that. This is mostly true, but their effects still vividly scar this nation and people.

W.E.B. Dubois, author of “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903) (a book I highly recommend) and co-founder of the NAACP, said that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” In his book, he talks about the isolation, poverty and identity crises African Americans suffered shortly after they were allowed to live “free.”

You need only talk to your parents or grandparents to find out what they experienced during the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation, the Klu Klux Klan and lynchings paint a horrific picture of some of those years. On the other hand, people were shown that perseverance and unity can improve the worst of situations.

Fast forward to today, 2012. A lot has happened from then until now, and we really have come a long way. But we have a long way to go still. What we see today in regard to racism is mostly under the surface. What I mean is that it finds its way through implicitly in movies, politics and YouTube — all sources that are run mainly by white men. It seeps into daily conversation with comments like, “Well, Carl should know about that stuff. He’s black!” etc.

It must be said, however, that racism hits many people with multiracial backgrounds. No one is completely void of racism and no one is completely filled with it. That aside, we have to look at who has had the power over the centuries and who has been robbed.

In college I took an African-American literature course. The professor was notorious for “hating white people.” When I got to class, I had never seen such an intimidating professor. Every lecture he would go over the readings we had from famous black poets, authors, etc.

He would always yell and not allow you to disagree with him if you said something he didn’t like. Seems like a horrible professor, right?

The truth is, I have never been changed by a class on such a high personal level in my life. There was something about the things he said, the way he said them, and the facts he presented that blew me away. Even though some of his beliefs were extreme and violent, he spoke about race in the U.S. with a brutal honesty that left your mind and heart numb after leaving the room.

I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. When I talked with my classmates outside of the classroom, we would discuss how unbelievable the events that took place in this country were from its birth until now. After studying for the final exam, I was elated when I got a B, as he is a very tough grader. On one of my journal entries, he even wrote, “Very good to excellent entries. Your writing shows that you deeply think about the reading material and have something to say about it.”

After the course was finished, the question “What can I do?” spun around my brain. It pained me, at first, to think of myself as “white,” but then I realized that I had no more control over the color of my skin than I did on me being born in the first place. I learned to accept who I am, work on taking down prejudices and biases that have been passed down from generations past, and use my strengths to do good.

The conclusion I came to was this: If we want to eliminate violence and inequality in race, or in any aspect of life, we must try to learn and love those who look, act, live or seem different than us. Ignorance and indifference are the two evils we need to fight.

Learn, because knowledge is power, and with power we can change things for good or bad. Read a book about African-American history or talk with someone who isn’t from this country to gain their perspective. This way you can step outside of your box and see things in a different light.

Love, because understanding another human being and realizing how we are miraculously similar and different, lets us sow peace within ourselves and others. Before judging someone by the color of their skin, realize your own faults and notice the positive things in the other person. As you’re talking to him or her, find some common ground and go with it. You’ll be amazed at how far you will travel.

Imagine you are at your deathbed. Upon thinking of all the evil in the world, you suddenly realize that all the hate, violence and suffering between “us” and “them” was futile in its most tragic sense. With no time to blame or praise either side, you are left with one burning desire: to know love. This desire revealed itself in the last breathing moments of Lt. Edward Lea when his father, Albert (with whom he hadn’t spoken for years) found him mortally wounded Jan. 1, 1863, in the Battle of Galveston. Not wanting help for his multiple bullet wounds, Albert Lea’s son died with these words on his lips: “My father is here.”


Ross Pirsig has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and works as a success coach at Lakeview Elementary School in Albert Lea and as a community interpreter. He resides in Albert Lea.