This past spring semester, I took an African American history class. I have to admit, history has long been my most dreaded subject in school, but this class became my favorite. One of the books we read was Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. In this (very well-written) book, Wilkerson documents the lives of three individuals who were part of the Great Migration. Through the reading of this book, watching movies (42: A Jackie Robinson Story, Bridge to Freedom, The Help, Glory, 12 Years a Slave, and Freedom Summer), and discussing in class, history (particularly that of African Americans) became to me the exploration of the stories of real people and understand things from their perspectives within their contexts. I think it has definitely made me more empathetic and better at giving individuals the benefit of the doubt — because I really don’t know everything.
One of the themes that constantly came up in my mind throughout this class was the dehumanization of people in history. Even the [smaller] things that occurred in everyday life, particularly in how people treated each other, whether black or white, demonstrate dehumanization. To be honest, everyday life is where those kinds of mentalities are developed and nurtured — or prevented and squashed. Where dehumanization shows its ugly face to all the world to see is in the bombings and the shootings, as the whole nation — and probably world — saw in the news regarding Charleston, SC, this week.
I looked up the accused shooter, Dylann Roof, because I wanted to learn more about him and what his motives were. I found a site that displays a white supremacist document that Dylann Roof allegedly wrote. It looks to me like he actually did know a lot and was pretty aware of race history. I think where he went wrong was really in his assumptions. I think he assumed that everything revolves around the white race. I think he assumed that people, no matter what color, don’t have individual backgrounds and circumstances to deal with and grow from. I think he didn’t take into account that you really need to be able to see things from another person’s perspective before you can claim to understand him or her. And, most of all, I definitely think that he dehumanized people of the non-white races.
I think that if you really get to know a person and where he or she comes from, it is much more possible for you to see that person as human. When you treat someone as no human should be treated, you not only dehumanize that person; you dehumanize yourself. You stoop lower than any human should stoop, just to treat someone lower than any human should be treated. When you cannot act in love, you do not act as a human. Humans were made to love. Love is what each of us (knowingly or unknowingly) lives for. It is what drives each of us. And this (although broad) is the only proper solution to this mess that we have created. It is the only solution that will change things for the better and for the long run. This is why the victims’ families have chosen to love and forgive the murderer of their loved ones.
This Love goes completely against our human nature — because we are sinful by nature. And this is why we must make the conscious decision to love in each and every minute of every day of our lives. It is obviously not the easy or default choice. It is something that we have to work for — all the time. It isn’t something that we can do on autopilot, although it does become more natural to partake in as we do more frequently. But love is always the hard choice that we have to make between what our sinful nature wants and what we know deep down is the better and wiser choice. Love or the absence of it is truly at the core of everything that we do.
So what do we do? Well, I’m not an expert at love, or at anything for that matter. But what does love do?
- Love looks out for others and protects others. It may just mean coming alongside someone and being with him or her.
- Love serves. And seeks to serve.
- Love delights. Love finds joy in every situation. Joy is not the emotion of happiness, but rather a deeper spiritual state that is deeply rooted in love, faith, and hope. (I realize that’s extremely circular. What do you think defines joy?)
- Love reconciles. Love forgives and always seeks reconciliation. It may mean confrontation. Or it may not even involve interacting with a person again. But love reconciles.
- Love endures. Love provides a strength that endures through all and that never quits — because that is against the nature of Love.
So what do you think love does? How have you seen other people demonstrate love? And what is joy to you?