...Ordinary eyes categorize human beings.
That one is a Zoroastrian. This one a Muslim.
Walk instead with the other vision given you,
your first eyes. Bow to the essence
in a human being. Do not be content
with judging people good and bad.
Grow out of that...
My grandchildren are bi-racial. Their father is Trinidadian with indigenous Caribbean Indian and African ancestry. Their mother, my daughter, is American with Irish and Scottish ancestry. Issues about people of color are, therefore, deeply personal. Today I listened to a 1997 interview on New Dimensions with Melody Ermachild Chavis, author of "Altars in the Street: A Courageous Memoir of Community and Spiritual Awakening". She lives in Oakland, CA and works in prisons with men on death row.
Her information was scary so I looked up current stats in Wikipedia. They're scarier. The USA has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, the highest total prison and jail population in the world- 2,304,115 adults and 92,854 juveniles. The number jumps to over 7.2 million when counting those on probation or parole. In comparison, England and Wales incarcerate 148 out of 100,000 residents, the USA 754 out of 100,000.
It gets scarier - 70% of prisoners are people of color. And nearly 1 million of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons are serving time for non-violent crimes. Men in jails swell those numbers even more since they are also usually non-violent offenders. From 1980-2008 the prison population quadrupled partially as a result of mandatory sentences that came about during the "war on drugs". This happened during a time when the violent crime rate actually went down 25%. California spends more on prisons than on education. Is this the best we can do?
These are our children, our future. Remember the line in Alex Haley's "Roots": "All your ancestors existed to produce you."? I think that when I look at my grandchildren. All my ancestors and I existed to produce them. They are meant to be here. I want a better world for them, where people see them with "first eyes". I want them to be able to develop their talents and make their contribution. I want them to be accepted, respected, recognized for the amazing people they are. I want them to know the freedom that I have known. I want them to be seen, really seen, not pre-judged.
Her's what I can think of to do:
- practice compassion
- do an act of kindness for 1 person each day
- look people in the eye, even the poor, homeless or immigrant
- see each person as unique and deserving of mercy
- volunteer- tutor a child, plant a community garden, tackle a problem, visit youth in prison
- wage peace
- believe that others can change
- be the change I want
Will you join me? What else can we do?