Witnessing humanity’s evolution: hate to love (?).

Mrs.Mowen_.2014Carol Mowen,
Greencastle, PA.

When I first wrote this “race card” in 2014, I had firmly placed a period at its end. In 2016, I am moved to revise it slightly – to add the question mark in parentheses because I am not as sure we’re on the trajectory from hate to love as clearly as I felt it before. I’ve also written an essay for explain my 6 words. Here it is:

On MLK Day: An Essay on Humanity’s Evolution of Love
By Carol Mowen
Mixed race. Half breed. Mulatto. Real twentieth century terms used to describe an attitude of hate and disapproval for children with parents of different racial backgrounds or ethnic heritage. Mud blood. Mutt. Fictional terms rooted in reality used in two currently popular young adult novel series to describe an attitude of hate towards children or creations that are different or genetically altered. Loaded terms.
For those born as I was in 1963, the last fifty years has changed the face of reality in such dramatic ways that many of our own children cannot understand it. Especially children who grow up in homogenized enclaves where race doesn’t appear to matter. Even when our 21st century students read historical fiction like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or poems like Langston Hughes’s “Harlem,” study plays like August Wilson’s Fences, watch movies like A Place in the Heart, see musicals like South Pacific, or watch documentaries about MLK’s March on Washington, many of them still can’t wrap their heads around how institutional racism and prejudice ruled the day before the Civil Rights Movement. And I guess that’s a good thing – it is evidence that what we have witnessed since 1963 is nothing short of another step in the chain of humanity’s evolution – stepping stones from hate to love.
This evolution is a long time coming. Throughout human history, we as a human race have built walls and fought for territory to protect our clans or tribes. In terms of the distant past, anthropologists would likely say these activities were hard-wired in us as part of our survivalist natures. If we were to live, we had to kill. Then in more recent centuries, greed and European paternalism and outright hate spurred massacres of native peoples in the Americas and Africa. And don’t forget the practice of genocide that included not only the efforts of Adolf Hitler in World War II but the murders of millions at the hands of repressive leaders, from Saddam Hussein to Kim Il Sung, from Mao Ze-Dong to Joseph Stalin. And the United States is not without its own examples. Remember the Cherokee Nation’s Trail of Tears? And I haven’t even mentioned slavery, Jim Crow…all examples of man’s inhumanity to man.
Of course, that all seems “out there” and “big picture” and “it’s not about me” and “I didn’t live it” to many adults and students alike. However, if we probe and share our perspectives on race in six word sentences at Michele Norris’s Race Card Project as many are doing, we can experience how race and ethnicity still spur heated and heart-felt conversations. These conversations can hopefully heal our culture and keep humanity on the trajectory from hate to love. And this cathartic process can also help the teens of today get a better grasp at the fire they stoke when they joke about race or try to pull the “race card” in 2014.
So what would be my six word sentence? That’s really difficult!
I can remember an old black man on my grandmother’s place in Adams County, Mississippi, whose name was Alec. He took care of her cattle and lived in a shack on one of her plantations. My grandmother’s attitude was likely that of the paternal landowner who saw it in her purview to care for those who lived on her land, but we never spoke directly about race. That wasn’t done.
I can remember many stories from my father who grew up on a Delta plantation and who plowed cotton behind a mule alongside blacks who were sharecroppers on his Uncle Martin’s place. My father’s attitude toward race was a study in contradictions: ready in some ways to support equal rights but not ready for what he called racial mixing. Like George McGovern, he didn’t approve of the federal government setting the timeline and swooping in from the north to tell southern towns and southern schools how integration had to be accomplished. He continually teased me about my progressive ideas on race up until his death in 2012.
I can remember the black bartender at the Elks Club in Natchez, Mississippi, who brought me burgers and cokes at the pool and put them on my Daddy’s tab. And the black piano player at the Rendezvous Restaurant who could play so well that my parents would swoon as they danced to his renditions of their favorite old tunes.
I can remember when court ordered desegregation was implemented in my home town, how my parents and hundreds of other parents pulled their white children out of public schools and enrolled them in new “white flight” private schools. These schools were connected to the area’s churches. Some were dubbed parochial schools or had explicit church affiliations. I was in the middle of first grade (1969-1970), and I remember finishing first grade at a Citizen’s Council school that was housed throughout the town in many local churches’ Sunday School rooms – different grades at different locations. Within a few years, a new K-12 school building had been built. I was unaware of the school’s “Uptown Klan” related history until my mama told me about it many years later when I was in my twenties. That particular school has long since folded, but the other private schools, those with church connections, survived (and continue even to this day). Many are at least integrated (some with only a few black families), but in many ways, these schools perpetuate a classicism with roots in racism that is still sdeep-seated in our culture.
I can remember, as a child, shopping at the white merchants on Main Street, and I can remember the parallel street, Franklin, where most of the black businesses were established. I can remember Pine Street before it was renamed MLK Street.
I can remember my transition back to public school in 1979, and the first time I had classes with blacks (South Natchez-Adams High School), the first time I rode in a car with a black person (selling high school newspaper ads for the SNAHS Echoes Staff), and the first time I explored a black friendship (Elliott Thomas – my pen pal from band camp).
I can remember my first teaching job in the 1980s at the 99% black Callaway High School in Jackson, Mississippi, where de facto racial segregation was (and still is) the reality.
I can remember moving to Pennsylvania in 1996 and being shocked at finding a flier for a “White Christian Society” event near our mailbox on Ridge Road. And even in 2014, the MLK Day observances in south central PA included the news that the actual still-in-existence Klan had put fliers out in nearby Thurmont, Maryland, to promote their organization.
In my 2014 classroom, I have racially diverse students. In my extended family, there are beautiful children who will hopefully never know the derogatory labeling of mixed race or half breed from fifty years ago. My sons have grown up in this new era. In 2014, I welcome a daughter-in-law with a rich cultural heritage that would likely have caused my son to be disowned from the family in my grandmother’s age. Amazing the miracle that has occurred in just fifty years.
So here’s my six word sentence: Witnessing humanity’s evolution: hate to love.
Humanity’s evolution from hate to love is not yet complete, and it may be another generation or two before this deep change is complete in the Western world. And that is only if those who still preach hate against “the other” can change their perspectives. After all, as the old Rogers and Hammerstein song from the musical South Pacific so eloquently goes, “you have to be carefully taught.” And I don’t know how long it will take for this evolution of love to reach the Middle East and parts of Asia where ongoing conflicts born out of centuries still rage. But I have hope that humanity’s evolution will continue until it reaches a perfect ending – with all peoples and nations accepting that our common humanity is stronger than the color of skin or ethnicity of our ancestors.
MLK Day 2016 POSTSCRIPT
During the two years since I wrote this essay, I’ve seen both progress and setbacks in this evolution from hate to love. In the courts and in our streets, controversy and confrontation appear to be the norm, not love and respect. In the United States, voices of hate and fear are rising in the political mix. We as individuals must stand up to the bigotry and racism we witness, acknowledge the existence of white privilege, and own up to the legacy that the United States was made into a great country through the genocide of our indigenous peoples and through the economy of slavery (in both the North and the South). We need to be vigilant, or the voices of hate who stir controversy and not reconciliation could reverse the progress altogether and set us back fifty years instead of moving us forward. What is Dr. King’s legacy? Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now. Stop the hate.

Copyright by Carol Mowen, Greencastle, PA
January 18, 2016

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