To Steven Ingraham: Prelude #2 to the “30 Most Important Things I Learned in Life”
(I know, these preludes are getting longer than the list itself!)
Being immersed in science-thinking for so many years I have always felt that Race; as expressed in the genetic (DNA) and/or the phenotype (what you see) is perhaps one of the least scientifically reliable variables for making judgments about who, and what people are. And yet I must balance this understanding, with an understanding of how “race plays”, on the American stage of life. For example George Zimmerman may in fact be a “closer genetic relative” to Trayvon Martin then he is to most White people in America. But the social/political reality is, that on that tragic violent night he saw, not a possible relative; but his culturally defined: “Black Antagonist/Nemesis/Opponent”. I have been haunted (greatly of late); by the consoling and counseling words of my mother who in response to my being disappointed time and time again would ask: “When, will you learn; I know you love your people; the question is: do they love you?” Over the years (and long after her death) her logical (no college experience) question, and the implied answer; would repeatedly defeat my (college educated) frustration in the face of reality. I love education; but one cannot out think reality. To tell the truth, life is full of amazingly contradictory experiences that seem to challenge our inclination to live life in a reality that we have created in the solitary confines of our minds. I have for many years (and I can’t deny it) often felt spiritually closer to many of my Muslim students, than to students with whom I share a religious tradition. Also over the years, it has been very often been students and parents who are not African-American who have shown the greatest understanding and appreciation of my efforts. Many of these parents spoke little or no English. I remember with so much detail when the father of two of my Bengali-American students came into my office, after the graduation of the older brother. He confessed that he was at first worried about me; but that he had come to realize that I treated all of the children the same; and in tears he expressed his appreciation for what I had done for his son over the last four years; and what I was presently doing for his daughter. There we were two men, from two very different cultural experiences; both standing and celebrating in tears. That experience was one of the most wonderful moments in my career. But somehow I missed the lesson of that day; I missed what God (sometimes by way of my mother, but on that day by way of that parent) was trying to teach me. And that is: being in control of your calling is at best counter intuitive and at worst counter productive. I truly believe that we are forced to “repeat a life-grade”, when we fail to learn the lessons of that life- grade. I would for better and worse go for many years; in many different localities; be forced to learn, again and again the important lesson of that moment. If you call yourself to a task (as opposed to being called), then I believe that task is in vain. Success is authentically and obediently responding to the call placed on your life; and like Jonah you can’t pick the where, and to whom you are sent. And for good reasons; our vision is too limited; our patience too wanting; our prejudice too overwhelming; our ability to forgive to faint; our compassion too weak, and our capacity to love unconditionally to shallow. It would (so it would seem) be easier to help people who look like us, live like us, and worship like us. But God has an interesting way of getting us back on track, when we are off the track of our calling. Success for me has always been centered in my belief that by creating the possibility for young people to realize their true possibilities; meant a win for them, for their families, for the communities from which they come, for the nation, and indeed for the universe itself. A positive change in one person is a positive change for the entire world. But the truth is that doing a good may not be appreciated (even and including by the primary targets of that good). And perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of your good act will fall not on those who you intended it to fall; but rather, our good deeds will follow the intentions of God.