GERMANTOWN HILLS — So is this where we are with racial relations in America?
A small chunk of a small community gathered Tuesday to take a first step in what this country has historically failed to do: fight prejudice and win.
You can’t blame people for trying.
But there we were, at a church, about 100 faces, most of them white, a few of them black, trying to foster hope in the wake of a racist video — yet at the same time, hundreds of area children were at home, forced to stay away from schools deemed too dangerous after a shooting threat.
Still, the gathering moved forward, the air thick with buzzwords intended to be positive.
Racism won’t be “tolerated.”
People must be “culturally sensitive.”
Parties will try to “work through the issue.”
There needs to be “community dialogue.”
Those are good talking points. But that’s assuming that talk can change people.
Indeed, that’s at the core of the matter: talk.
For better or worse, kids hear parents talk at home.
To the shock of a community, racist talk peppered a disparaging video.
And for the hope of the future, leaders want to foster understanding and tolerance.
I want to be hopeful. I really do.
In that regard, I think of one of Tuesday’s speakers, a white mom with several children, one an adopted African-American youth now in his teens. She told the gathering how the video deeply hurt the son — he told her, “I thought they were my friends” — to the point her 7-year-old white daughter wondered why her brother has been so sad lately.
So the mom tried to explain to the 7-year-old, “Your brother was hurt because he has different pigment than we do.” My guess is, the little girl probably didn’t grasp much of that explanation: little kids aren’t predisposed to hate, so how can they understand it?
Indeed, children are not genetically inclined to disrespect others or hurl racial epithets or laugh at racist jokes or wave Confederate flags or do any of the other hateful things this country is supposed to abhor. They learn it at home. Seeds are planted young, and the bigotry is nurtured for years and years, until it seems like just another homegrown family value.
At Tuesday’s meeting, speakers talked about educating all kids about racial equality. Some of you are thinking the same thing as I: it's pretty sad that schools have to teach students that racism is bad, just like schools have to assume other roles that good parents are supposed to do. Still, through the schools, maybe it’s possible prejudiced kids can unlearn bad values and habits.
But will it stick? Amid the talk of community-wide change, are parents — those parents who teach kids to hate — going to suddenly embrace harmony?
And if the parents turn a deaf ear to community pleas for tolerance, and if those parents keep nattering their nasty talk at home, is there a chance their kids can grow up without hateful words on their minds and tongues?
The mom doesn’t know what to think. She still is seeking answers, even after asking four 14-year-olds why they created the racist video.
“No one could answer that for me,” she said. “I don’t know where to go from here.”
Yet she remains hopeful. So does the father of the African-American boy targeted in the video. He says "hundreds" of area people have told him about other instances of racism and bullying over time locally. At Tuesday's meeting, he offered a Biblical reference, apparently to Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” In other words, some fruit is healthy and some is poisonous, yet we get to choose what kind to plant and eat it.
But when all this talking starts, is it possible to steer racist adults away from poison? Will talk fall on deaf ears? What then?
Love, the father said, over and over.
“If you don’t have love and compassion for people,” the father said, “you’re part of the problem.”
There’s no community-education plan to love. Just do it. Or not. It’s our choice. Hope and pray we choose wisely.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.