Civilization goes forward when one race defends another. That's what happened 50 years ago this week when the United States Supreme Court ruled that African-American schoolchildren deserved better educations than "separate but equal" was affording them.
Racism still stifles the access that minority children in the US have to adequate facilities and qualified teachers. All of us have a role to play in breaking through the ignorance, hate, and ambivalence that perpetuate the problem.
Racism is about worthlessness. It clings tenaciously to the myth that the color of a person's skin or even someone's ethnic heritage makes him or her superior. This ignorance indicates so little understanding of the true worth of one's individuality; the true substance of each of us is actually that which honors the individuality of another.
The only way I know how to cut through the mesmerism of racism is to look for opportunities to connect with people of different racial and ethnic origin from my own. My commuter train rides have given me hope. They are a rich fabric of Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic, white, and African-American people. When I first started riding I realized how the groups segregated themselves, probably not only by race but by social standing.
The cleaning ladies sat with the cleaning ladies; the middle management folks were drawn to one another; the executives tended to relish the time alone. I didn't fit into any of those groups, so I committed to getting to know all of them by looking for ways to start up conversation. I not only found someone to help me clean the apartment, but I have received good advice about my boyfriend, learned where to get the best oatmeal to go when I missed breakfast, and gotten tips about the changing nature of relationships in the workplace.
Why is this important? Because I can feel my heart for humanity expanding. Somehow connecting over the simple things of life is preparing me to see the deeper things.
Virginia is a wealth of wisdom about child care. She has been the housekeeper to one family through three generations and understands the core values that protect children from the shifting sands of society. Retirement is coming soon for her, and she is looking forward to more time in Mexico, where her home is.
Mary is another gold mine. Every conversation I have with her teaches me about the strength of true womanhood. When the issue of her pay raises comes up, she's forthright with her white bosses, noting that her creative solutions have saved the company a lot of money over the past year. I'm sure her pay increases have something to do with the good humor that goes with her humility. But she never takes credit for her talents without honoring the Lord.
Moving out of the box of your own race and social standing helps distill the qualities that really matter in life. They are no less than the spiritual qualities of God's making. Intelligence, creativity, unselfish effort, beauty, purity, honesty, courage are the things that exalt humanity and cross every cultural border and racial heritage.
I have wondered recently what God's view of school desegregation is. It makes sense to me that the Father-Mother of all intends all His-Her children, big and little, to bless one another. What God intends, God enforces. The power of God moves us beyond the superficiality of racial and ethnic stereotypes. The promise is that the more we admit the universality of our expression of God's being, the more opportunities we'll find to transcend the limitations of our own view.
The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote that in times of crisis in society there is a specific demand: "It is then that supreme devotion to Principle has especially been called for and manifested. It is then that we learn a little more of the nothingness of evil, and more of the divine energies of good, and strive valiantly for the liberty of the sons of God" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 176).
It is not too strong to call "evil" that which would deprive any race of the resources needed to develop its potential. May the next 50 years rededicate us to the effort to give everyone the best to bring out their best.