Hopie must have had African Royalty in her family tree. She walked with her head held high in regal pride. Her beautiful black satin skin celebrated her heritage every day. How we became friends was an accident. She is an ardent Black Muslim and detests things white. She ates no white bread and drank no white milk. She, of course, did not associate with white people. We met while I was working in an all black night club. She thought I was “high yellow” (black term for a light skinned black) and by the time she discovered I was white it was too late, we were friends. what followed was an educational experience for both of us.
I learned how racial prejudice looks and feels through her eyes, her pain. It is easy to see the big abuses but there are little hidden everyday abuses white people never notice. I felt, through her, the righteous anger that must be suppressed and the frustration that must be swallowed. I had been blind and she helped me see.
Hopie learned from me too.
One night, as the dashboard light show on her face, Hopie confessed. She said quietly, “Jim, you know we do not talk about it and we are not very proud of it but I have a grandmother who is part white.” I drove on in silence, trying to decide what I would say. Finally I said, “Hopie, what would you say if I told you, my family does not talk about it and we are not proud of it but I have a grandmother who is part black?” There was a long pause as he stared into the night. Quietly she said, “I did not say that did I?” I responded, “That is exactly what you said.”
In that moment I taught Hopie the very thing she hated and fought all her life; she had become, a racist bigot.
Bigotry and prejudice are an insidious ugly cruelty that can hide in any of us. We must not allow it to twist our souls. Grouping people under a single label and hating them is lazy, cruel and unfair.
When you see someone who hates a whole race of people or an entire culture, do not hate them, pity them. They not only are hurting themselves, they are missing a whole new world of experiences and knowledge.