“Everything I heard today is true. But, because of racism I suffered in my youth, I can not turn against Obama.” According to conservative writer Lloyd Marcus (1), the preceding sentiment was uttered by his father, a black man, after the elder Marcus attended the first Black Conservative Press Conference and heard some damning truths about Barack Obama and the Democrats.
The elder Marcus exhibits a common phenomenon. We see it in Christians who are hurt by a clergy member and who then reject Christianity, women who are hurt by a man and then embrace anti-male feminism and reject marriage, and in many, many other situations. And it’s often seemingly impossible to change such people’s minds, and for good reason: you don’t have to change their minds. You have to change their hearts. And emotional blocks don’t yield to intellectual bulldozers.
Clearly, the simple but generally resisted solution is forgiveness. Anger is like darkness: the more there is, the less you can see. When we’re pathologically angry at someone, we see him through colored glasses and ascribe negative motives to everything he does. “Why, that’s just what he would do!” or “No, no, no, that was no accident; it was done on purpose to hurt me!” we think. This, of course, is to view that person (or it could be a group) with prejudice, although we will invariably not realize it.
Once we forgive, however, that darkness lifts and we see the person in the light, for what he is. Then we usually realize that he doesn’t actually have a pitchfork, tails and horns, that he’s just a flawed human being like the rest of us. And sometimes, even, we realize he has a bit of a halo we previously never perceived—and that ours is conspicuously missing. But this piece isn’t mainly about forgiveness, but something else that can, perhaps, have an emotional impact.
Whenever I hear of a person rejecting something good because of bad witnesses associated with it—biting off his nose to spite his face, as my father used to say—a certain response always occurs to me:
“Why would you let those people control your life?”
In other words, if we reject something good that can benefit us because someone associated with it once hurt us, aren’t we, in a sense, allowing them to still exercise control over our lives? Aren’t we allowing these people who once victimized us to—again, in a sense—victimize us in perpetuity?
Moreover, consider all the implications of letting the ghosts of the past influence our present. If we’re rejecting Christianity because of them, we not only deny ourselves the faith, but also deny it to the children we may have in the future. Likewise, if we let those who once hurt us control our voting decisions, we not only hurt ourselves with bad government, but also the children to whom we will bequeath it.
This is much like being a rebellious teenager who, feeling he’s been hurt by his father, smokes or neglects academics because it is contrary to his father’s will. But what is the most significant thing that he really is opposing?
And just as he rejects what is good governed by past hurts, so does the voter who lets the lever be pulled by the ghosts of the past. Ironically but sadly, he is responding to those who acted contrary to Truth by acting contrary to Truth himself.
As far as the black community goes, we see this phenomenon not just in voting. It’s also apparent when a black youth who studies hard or speaks properly is accused of “acting white” (and jealousy plays a role here, too). The result? Countless black youngsters have lived brutal and often short lives because they’d rather be ridin’ dirty than acting white and nerdy. Of course, though, right is never white (or black)—it’s just right.
Having said this, the “I won’t let you control me” perspective isn’t the highest reason to do what’s right. It smacks of ego and pales in comparison to the ethereal beauty of forgiveness. But perhaps, in some cases, it can be part of a new beginning.