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GAIL WHITE Children have much to teach about acceptance



Published: Wed, January 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



As a white, middle-class, suburban woman, I have been insulated from the biting, unjust jaws of prejudice.

I feel no sense of comfort or satisfaction in that. Indeed, if my world were haunted by the injustices of oppression, I would be more likely to do something about it.

My empathy for those who are objects of prejudice is limited because of my limited experience.

My sympathy, however, overflows within my soul.

When I hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, I am inspired by his words, his emotion, his love for his fellow man.

When I read about the atrocities and hardships that African-Americans have had to endure, a smoldering fire swells within me.

Having endured those hardships, Martin Luther King Jr.'s smoldering fire grew to a roaring flame, burning a hole in his very soul.

Instead of dousing his fire in the water of "status quo," Martin fanned the flames with his words. His fire turned into a forest fire of civil rights activists.

He gave his "I Have A Dream" speech when he was 34. He was killed at 39. His fire burns on.

A certain understanding: I will never endure the prejudice Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-Americans have had to endure. Because of that, I do not have a complete understanding of his fire born from prejudice.

What I do understand about prejudice is that no human is born with it in their soul.

Prejudice is learned.

Children do not care what color or race a friend may be. They care only that the friend is nice and plays fair.

Children are not concerned with the social or economic background of a playmate. How well they share is their great concern.

Children have the ability to look beyond the outside, superficial attributes of a person and see the real, genuine person inside.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose that ability to "see inside."

Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, we eat the apple of "knowledge and wisdom" and we become "too smart" to ignore our outward differences. Our inward similarities become inconsequential absurdities.

See like a child: Yet, seeing like a child is where eradicating prejudice begins.

Indeed, I have met African-Americans I have not liked.

I have met just as many Caucasians I do not care to know.

My feelings are not dictated by the color of their skin or where they live.

It is the quality of the person and their actions that determine my opinion.

That is what Martin Luther King Jr. wanted. That is the fire that burned in this soul.

It was not a call for special privileges or quotas. It was a call for outward blinders to enable inward equality.

My small contribution to the civil rights movement will be to instill these values in my children, as my parents instilled them in me.

For truly, if I am not an active part of "the dream," I am part of the nightmare.

I would like to think I would have sat next to Rosa Parks on that bus long ago.

I know, in reverse, she would have sat next to me.

Says it best: Perhaps poet Shel Silverstein says it best in his children's poem, "No Difference."

Small as a peanut,

Big as a giant,

We're all the same size

When we turn out the light.

Rich as a sultan,

Poor as a mite,

We're all worth the same

When we turn out the light.

Red, black or orange,

Yellow or white,

We all look the same

When we turn out the light.

So maybe the way

To make everything right

Is for God to just reach out

And turn out the light.

... And every race, every nation, every religion said, "Amen."

gwhite@vindy.com




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