What Burns Below: Feeling the Fires of Prejudice

I have had to examine my own heart and thoughts around the subject of prejudice lately, think about things I might have said in jest or how I might have laughed at a racist joke, and how I should have spoken up more when I heard others’ hateful words. Negative thoughts about other races and religions have flashed through my mind on occasion, but tolerance and acceptance usually prevailed. Love and deeper understanding even crept in once in a while. I know one thing for sure—I admire those who exhibit love for their fellow human beings and despise those who spew hatred like lighter fluid on hot coals.

This is the only good thing I see about the recent horrors that are happening—the hate-filled rants and uneducated people exhibiting the worst parts of humanity. The only good thing is that we are forced to think more deeply about the prejudice that seeps into every person, tribe, nation, culture, religion.

No matter how much people want to believe that the media or one man’s words have the strength to ignite a nation, the truth is that the fire was there all along, smouldering away. Misguided people waited and watched from behind their shuttered windows for the right moment to fan the bonfire of prejudice. Once their incendiary breath laced with vicious, thoughtless words blew on the coals, the blaze quickly spread. It singed those who had never spoken out before and they screamed out in fear and anger, adding to the insanity.

The waves of heat from the fire also woke others up, made them turn their heads and ogle at the orange pyre. Some covered their heads and ran from the sparks flying around them; others began a bucket brigade, trying to douse the fire; and then there were those who saw an opportunity—they had always stood too close to this fire, felt its heat, and wanted the fire mongers to know that they had been waiting too. They had spoken out before, tried to be proactive, spoken in whispers that fell on deaf ears—sometimes shouting out loud, but they only managed to stamp out a few small fires. Most of them knew there was an inferno, smouldering underfoot. They hoped the nation would be ready if it got out of control.

The inferno is burning fiercely now and will leave dark, burned out hollows that swallow up a nation’s pride. The flames will continue to burn charred lines through neighborhoods and cities, and will cross borders. The fire will reach further than anyone imagined it would, the light from the fire casting distorted shadows in the halls of democracy.

But there is always a brighter light than that thrown by the fires of prejudice . . . and that is the light of hope and reason. We need to accept that there are hot spots, cinders glowing hotly under the ground, waiting for the earth to crumble a little and leave an opening. But we don’t have to accept that this is always how it will be, or how it should be.

if we say we have no prejudices, we have lost,
and prejudice has us bound.
if we admit our prejudices, name them, look at them with naked eyes and resolve, then we’re making headway….
prejudice in the end is humanity failing to be human!
being human is a 24 hour a day,7 days a week job!

poem by Eric Cockrell

Each of us carries an ember from that fire within us and we can choose to acknowledge it or ignore it. . . either way, this is a problem that can turn into an opportunity. We start by talking, openly and honestly, about our feelings and our fears. We examine how our histories and heritage bear the scorch marks of prejudice, and how we feed or starve that fire with every choice we make.

We accept our part in the problem, shoulder the responsibility, and move on with forgiveness and healing. We can refuse to listen to inflammatory phrasing in news, jokes, stories and song. We can turn away from the voices that chant  to keep the fire burning. We can stand with those who are targeted and create a fireproof wall of understanding. If we are targeted, we ask for help, trust in the good in others, and continue to fight fire, not with fire but with truth, love, and peace. We can educate, illuminate, and extinguish hate one match at a time.

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