I was raised a bigot.
For nearly the first two decades of my life, I nurtured an unreasoning and irrational prejudice against entire groups of people.
I first learned bigotry from my father, who viewed everyone through a filter of racial and ethnic hatred. He taught me volumes about intolerance by his casual remarks around the dinner table or when he and his friends shared a six-pack around the TV.
Fortunately, maturing into an adult helped me isolate truth from most of my earlier indoctrination. And learning to view races and cultures through the filter of Scripture has, perhaps more than anything else, helped reshape my belief system.
Still, as with any long-term subtle and insidious propaganda, bigotry is a hard beast to conquer. And I am grateful to GOD for the times when I stumble upon yet another reason to bury that demon a little deeper. Like the time when, of all things, a surgery patient's esophagus re-taught me more about the unity of humankind than any lecture or textbook on diversity had ever accomplished.
Mrs. Johnson, beset with internal bleeding, came to our clinic for an endoscopy - an uncomfortable procedure during which a flexible "camera" is inserted into the patient's throat and threaded toward the stomach. The camera would enable the physician to view the
lining of her upper GI tract and provide some clue to the cause of her bleeding.
I introduced myself as the clinic nurse, helped her get comfortable on the operating table, and injected a sedative into her IV line. A few minutes later the surgeon asked for the lights to be dimmed, and we started the examination.
That was when it happened. As if seeing it for the first time, my eyes fixed onto the video screen at the end of the table. Mrs. Johnson's esophagus was a healthy pink ... just as pink as Mr. Randolph's esophagus had looked earlier that morning. But Mr. Randolph was Caucasian; Mrs. Johnson was African American.
As I stared at the screen, my mind replayed the many dozens of endoscopies I had seen in my nursing career. Each patient - Asian, European, African, Hispanic looked the same on the inside. With the ping-pinging of Mrs. Johnson's heart monitor echoing around the room, a thought suddenly dawned on me: Beneath our superficial and cosmetic skin color, everyone is the same.
A simple truth, yes. But it is my experience that simple truths are often the most profound - and the most overlooked.
I wish I had known as a child what I know now as an adult. What friendships did I never enjoy because of my earlier brainwashing? What experiences did I miss?
My father could not know the influence his bigotry would have on my life. If he had, I like to think he would have been more careful around me. But the past cannot be changed. The future, however... that is what counts. With Christ's help, that can be altered.
As a parent myself, I clearly understand my responsibility to instruct my children in things I was never taught - respect and compassion for all for whom Christ died, regardless of skin color or background or any number of things that so easily divide us. And in so doing, it is my hope they will not miss out - as I did - on friendships and experiences that will enrich their lives.
Richard Maffeo is a registered nurse and
free-lance writer in San Antonio, Texas.