My Ignorance
Mike Heisler

In the 2014 movie “Captain America, the Winter Soldier”, a police car pulls up next to Nick Fury in his big black SUV. When they stare at him, Fury says “Do you want to see my lease?” That seemed funny at the time, oh, they might think he stole it. I didn’t grasp that it was only because he was black that they would think that. It wasn’t funny after all.

“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Thomas Sowell

Amen. Angela asked me about my bi-weekly post (which I’m not doing well with) and given it’s Black History month it seemed appropriate to touch on that topic. Not in terms of the history of black Americans but on what I’ve learned about it this past year.

While I would not have considered myself well read, I would have considered myself aware of the general news and goings on in the US and the world. I regularly listen to podcasts, news reports and read news articles and papers. I don’t pay attention to the various social media forces or follow online news. But hey, I’m 66, for most of my life that stuff didn’t exist. And frankly I’m suspicious of it. It’s too easy to rapidly “publish” inaccuracies, mistakes and lies.

I heard a while ago that during the depression it was said “Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you read.” Referring to news and gossip. It probably stems from this quote “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” ― Edgar Allan Poe. “Seeing” can relate not only to what we read but to what we sometimes think we see so clearly.

Getting back to being in my 60s. I lived during the civil rights movement, a bit too young to understand some of it, but old enough to take part as we emerged into the 70’s with new awareness, state laws, federal support, and general respect for Black Americans. I grew up in a predominantly white blue-collar town in western PA. My experiences with people of color were sometimes awkward but not hostile.

Then coming to Ithaca and Cornell I was exposed to a multi-ethnic, multicultural world that left me pretty open and accepting of most people. I thought others had left the prejudices of the 60s behind. That was so “last generation”. I moved to Ohio after graduation and realized that I was wrong on that one. Yet I did not see evidence of the kind of discrimination that was so pronounced prior to the earlier Civil Rights rulings. “Believe half of what you see”.

We moved back to Ithaca. Our best friends had adopted two black children and one from India. We adopted 4 Koreans. I was a minority in my own home. My kids were often the only non-white in their class. Yes, they experienced some occasional racism. Bullies will use any difference to torment people, race is an easy target. But overall there we saw little prejudice. My daughter married an African-American, my son a European-American and we were happy for them.

Then came what I’ll summarize as the mess of 2020. A positive outcome from all the turmoil was the new conversations we had with friends of color. We also watched some movies and documentaries that dealt with social and personal prejudices that we would not have otherwise considered. I became aware of my own ignorance. I was surprised, actually shocked by it.

My son-in-law received “the talk”. He understood that when the police stopped him he would be judged first on his race. In fact he may be stopped because of his race.

I talked to a friend from Kansas, not some industrial, east coast, inner city place, but a suburb of an educated, middle class, midwest city. I was told how the father wouldn’t walk the neighborhood street without one of the kids along for fear of having the police called out over this suspicious black man roaming the neighborhood.

I heard an IC faculty member had a security person pull a gun on them on campus. Suspicious of them because of their color. Several podcasts I listen to interviewed black Americans who repeated similar stories. These people are living in a world I was ignorant of.

Justice Clarence Thomas’ grandfather was stopped while driving an oil truck and cited for “wearing too many clothes”. What does that even mean? Given that this was in Georgia around 1960 it’s not too shocking. The laws of the time allowed for such behavior. Now they don’t. But sinful people in positions of authority can still cause grief and engage in prejudicial behavior.

Thomas Sowell’s quote that I began with emerges. I was more ignorant than I knew. Now what?

Lord, may we seek justice and love in our interactions and relationships. May we be a blessing to those of every color. May we realize how the prejudice of some has altered the lives of so many. May we seek to change hearts in the name and through the work of Jesus, one heart at a time.

Some things to watch:
“Common Sense in a Senseless World” A documentary on black conservative Thomas Sowell. (There are some great quotes in this.)
“Created Equal” Justice Clarence Thomas tells his story.
“Uncle Tom”, An oral history of the American Black conservative. We have purchased this, contact us if you can’t stream it for free and want to see it.