How do you transform an enemy, to make him or her a friend? By offering unconditional help as a fellow human being. By giving the least expected, yet the most needed without being asked, how can an enemy not be moved to see the ‘enemy’ as a true friend? Based on the true story of Ann Atwater (1935-2016) and C.P Ellis (1927-2005), the first was a black civil rights leader and the latter a once white supremacist leader, whom due to a community conflict, were forced to come together to discuss and vote for a solution. Doing so, they came to know each other as real individual human beings instead of fictitious stereotypes.
This is when they realised they were both the poor and oppressed, victims of systems that pushed senseless hatred for one another, while they were equally concerned of many similar challenges that their children faced. From yelling at each other due to misunderstanding, they came to cry together in empathy. Indeed, the best way to win, is by winning a friend, not an enemy, by walking in his or her shoes, to humanise in a down to earth way, not demonise with imagination. If we are more similar than different, why should we segregate from one another, simply based on race, instead of integrating as one human race?
Suffering beings we all are. Why should we make life more difficult for ourselves and others with the burden of unfounded hatred? All we seek is happiness for ourselves and loved ones. Being the very opposite, how can hatred ever bring about love? Ellis had first joined the town’s Ku Klux Klan to be part of something bigger, to have a sense of brotherhood. However, after 10 historical days (in 1971) spent discussing mutual problems with the black community, he decided to renounce his leadership and membership of the Klan, having realised that there was a larger brotherhood (and sisterhood) he needed to join and take care of — humanity itself.
His denouncing of the KKK was a brave act, for he who had become a non-hater then became bitterly hated by the other supremacists of his own race. It was unfortunate demonisation of a humaniser. The demonisers had either forgotten or ignored a simple fact — that whether we are ‘evil and dirty’ is not by our skin colour, but whether we are sullied by hatred in our minds. And be we blacks, whites, yellows, reds, browns or others in between, the same red blood flows under our skins, that we can share with one another, that need not be spilled and wasted for racism. Even more subtly, we all have the same pure Buddha-nature.
Worth mentioning are lyrics of the end song ‘Preach’ — ‘… And heaven knows I’m not helpless, but what can I do? I can’t see the use in me crying if I’m not even trying to make the change I wanna see. I can’t sit and hope. I can’t just sit and pray, that I can find a love, when all I see is pain. Falling to my knees, though I do believe. Oh, I can’t just preach baby preach…’ Yes, we need practical action too, as individuals and communities, to better humankind; not just tearful thoughts and prayers. To find love, be love. To end pain, be the healer. May we all ‘preach’ loving-kindness and compassion for one another. And may we all practise what we preach.
Is ‘American History X’ Still Repeating?