Racism and hatred is learned behavior, not hereditary or genetic

Marc Elliott

MECHANICSBURG – As I’ve aged I seem to take more and more time to self reflect in an attempt to gain a better understanding of myself and my life, of where I have been and what I have done. I do so that I can make my remaining time here as best as it possibly can be.

Oh, I’m certain I’m going to be around for a while yet, but it’s not lost on me that I’m not a young man anymore. I also take time to try to gain a better understanding of the world around me. I do so in the belief that perhaps somewhere, somehow I can do some things to make a difference. I have been working diligently on such a project for the past few months.

One topic that has always held my interest from my youth is that of the pursuit of peace and of why so many people don’t get along in this world. It has been troubling to me for quite some time and has grown exponentially over the years.

I take a look around me right now and see a country embroiled in hate and the violence that accompanies it. Just like the racism and hate I bore witness to as a kid and teenager growing up in the ‘60s. I’m left to ponder why we have made such little progress. How do our society and culture ever mature enough to get past this? It is problematic. Hate and racism have left a trail of broken and dead humans and it’s time for it to end. Also, the financial costs relative to this are staggering in their scope.

I wonder that if 180k dead pandemic victims can’t encourage the populace to wear masks to help stop the spread of it, what are the odds that we can get on top of our racism situation here? It’s disheartening, to say the least, and worst of all, hate and racism are not genetic or hereditary. No one is born with a hate gene within them.

It’s a byproduct of teaching, influencing and indoctrination. What kind of adult would teach a young mind to hate another based on skin color or religion, ethnicity, gender or orientation?

In most cases it’s a subtle process, in some, it’s a deliberate type of mentally sickening conditioning. We are all a product of the environment we grow up in. Haters are no different.

I didn’t grow up around that type of behavior or even hate rhetoric. With a neighbor in the pro football business, I was around black people from an early age. I never thought anything of it; the young blacks I knew then were simply other human beings. Because of my upbringing, it never occurred to me to engage in the soul sickening, spirit-crushing hate and intolerance that so many are exhibiting now.

My late father gave me one of the greatest examples of acceptance and tolerance I could have ever received. He and I had our differences over the years, but when I think of this single moment, it can still evoke raw, guttural emotions.  

In December of 1966 his father – my grandfather – died. We made the trip from St. Paul to central Illinois where most of our family still lived for his funeral service. He had been the postmaster in a small town of 500 outside of Springfield. The climate was that the country was still reeling from civil rights protests, marches, and even some riots. Desegregation was being enforced throughout the country, and there was still major resistance to such in some parts of the country.

The best I could say about central Illinois at the time based on my almost teenage observations was that I heard a few negative references to black people there, some of it from a minority of family members. I never heard such talk in my own home.  

My grandfather, as a postal carrier, knew everyone in the area. And in the outlying parts of his rural area, some blacks lived deep in the country and farmed what land they had for themselves and small produce markets. He came to know all of them and at the point of mail delivery, there may have been a bag of tomatoes or sack of sweet corn coming back from the other direction as the mail was handed off. Friendships were formed. Respect was given both ways.

At my grandfather’s funeral, in the small town funeral parlor, we were gathered to say one final goodbye to this wonderful person. The room wasn’t full though, and there were a few empty seats left. Just a couple of minutes into the service the front door opened and an elderly black man slid into the room. Being the only black person there I couldn’t imagine the courage it must have taken for him to walk through that door. Especially in mid-60s white Illinois. The man froze on the spot though, seemingly afraid to walk in any further.

No one said or did anything. Not until my father got up from his seat, walked to the back of the room, took the gentlemen’s arm and led him to an open seat, and motioned for him to please sit down with us and mourn and then he returned to his seat.

That single act was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. When I recall it more than 50 years later it evokes deep emotion and pride.
That’s what I was taught. That was my “conditioning” and my “indoctrination.” Acceptance. Tolerance. Kindness. Manners, civility and class. RESPECT.

I HAD black heroes when I was a kid. Muhammed Ali. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who I still study to this day, Malcolm X, and more. My black heroes weren’t only entertainers, athletes or musicians.

There’s much more to the black community than that. And that’s what I was taught or found out on my own. But the biggest lesson I ever learned came from a man right at home.

I’ve come to view hate and racism as a form of mental illness. It permeates the minds and souls of those who possess and practice it.

How do we ever break the cycle? What would a world at peace look like? I’ve never really seen that in my lifetime. War, hate, violence… It just never ends, the wearying toll on the human spirit and psyche seems to never cease.

In my life, I’ve had the privilege of having some black friends, all of whom left me with my life having been better for knowing them. Today, I have hope that we can and will change the world for the better, I write and dedicate this to them on this day:
Reverend Cleavon Barnes, Rick Moore, Leonard Moore, Catherine Moore, Karen Moore, Milt Huggins, Walter Smith, Johnny Marshall, Mike Gonzales, Robert Miller, Dave Criswell, and the late Jimmy Danner and Dwayne Morgan Jr.

PEACE now and forever. It’s the only thing that works for this world.