When I learned to hate racism

A man recalls this story:

I remember the day I learned to hate racism. I was five years old. The walk home from school was only about five blocks. I usually walked with some friends. On this day I walked alone. Happy, but in a hurry, I decided to take the shortcut through the alley. Without a care in the world, I careened around the corner—too late to change course I had walked into a back alley beating. There were three big white kids. In retrospect they were probably no more than sixth graders, but they looked like giants from my kindergarten perspective.

There was one black kid. He was standing against a garage, his hands behind his back the three white kids were taking turns punching him. They laughed. He stood silently except for the involuntary groans that followed each blow. And now I was caught. One of the three grabbed me and stood me in front of their victim. “You take a turn,” he said. “Hit the n….r!” I stood paralysed. “Hit him or you’re next.” So, I did! I feigned a punch. I can still feel the soft fuzz of that boy’s turquoise jersey as my knuckles gently touched his stomach. I don’t know how long he had to stand backed up against that garage.

After my minute participation in the conspiracy, they let me go and I ran. I ran home crying and sick to my stomach. I have never forgotten. Thirty-five years later that event still preaches a sermon to me every time I remember it. One can despise, decry, denounce, and even deplore something without ever being willing to suffer, or even be inconvenienced, to bring about change.

If there is one thing that Jesus taught us, it was how to suffer with and for others. Jesus walked the way of the cross. He taught us the meaning of suffering as a servant. Perhaps my first chance to follow that example came int eh alley by a garage thirty-five years ago. I don’t know if that black boy from the alley grew up, or where he lives, or what he does today. I never knew his name.

I wish I did. I wish I could find him. I need to ask his forgiveness—not for the blows I delivered, for it was nothing, but for the blows I refused to stand by his side and receive. I think that’s what it takes.

Love in my Master’s Name;

Fr Des Smit