Have you read the book, Black Like Me?
A best seller in the 60s, it was a big influence in many lives, including my own, for becoming aware of the racism in our society.
Black Like Me was written in 1961 by John Howard Griffin, who artificially changed his skin color from white to black and then traveled through the south to see what it was like for a black person living in that part of the world. As you can imagine, he was shocked by the deep prejudice and inequality experienced by the typical person of color. He wrote:
“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you.”
Racism exists everywhere, certainly not just the American South. Most of all it exists in the unexamined heart. Isn’t this the biggest challenge of our lives, a spiritual challenge, to be able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s skin, to experience, as best we can, what they experience? Novelists do this routinely, and our observations range from the fantastic to the realistic. For each of us imagination can be the first and biggest step in becoming compassionate, loving, human beings.
Books can open the door to our souls and help us connect to others, so that we can discover they are as close as our reflection in the mirror. Films can do that as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing “Selma,” one of the movies just nominated for an Academy Award.
Martin Luther King helped open my eyes to the commonality of all people, and tomorrow I will celebrate his life by remembering his great acts of courage and compassion and re-dedicating myself to live out his message that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
Happy Martin Luther King Day!