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August 17th, 2003

Hate and Human Dignity

A Mexican-American Woman, an African-American Woman, and an Afternoon Walk

 
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Every human being has dignity and should be treated with respect.

It’s easy, isn’t it?
Easy
it should be to understand this concept. Not only does the Catholic Church teach it (Human Dignity). We are taught on the playground and in school from a young age to be respectful of one another.

It has been a concept that I have tried to model in my life. I thought of it as a way to be accepting, loving, and always seeing Christ in others. And this teaching had not challenged me in many ways because I have always thought of myself as an easy-going, very-accepting sort of person; that was until last week…

Interpersonal traffic accident
Last week, I stepped out of my new home near the lake in Chicago. I was prepared with a backpack, tennis shoes, and an umbrella (one never knows when it is going to rain in Chicago).

I was the Texas-girl, I mean Texas-woman who had made the move to a bigger city (San Antonio is a big city with a small feel). Being from Texas, I greeted everyone with a smile or a nod. We call that polite in my home state.

Then it happened… I was walking toward the drug store when an African-American homeless woman asked me for change. I had no money on me. I told her I had no change.

I thought she would leave me alone, then she screamed at me, “YOU BETTER HOPE THE POLICE DON’T CATCH YOU AND TAKE YOU BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!” I was shocked! I had never experienced such overt racism in my life.

Lead us not into temptation
Then the thoughts began to stream…I wanted to call her the not-so-nice witch word. I immediately began to think of ways in which I was better than this woman. I had to stop myself from getting in her face and telling her that my ancestors had built parts of this country.

Yes, I even wanted to say something I never thought could enter my mind, “At least I have a home!”

From 0 to hate in 60 seconds
What an awful human being I had become in just a few moments. One sentence had reached me so deeply to pull every bit of hate I had in my heart.

Here I was, a person who tries (not always succeeds) to uphold the values of Catholic Social Teaching. Here I was, a person who had spent many nights at homeless shelters helping people find a place to rest after a long, hard day and listening to many of their stories. Here I was, a person who calls herself CHRISTIAN, and I wanted so badly to physically and emotionally wound this woman.

I learned a hard lesson that day. Racism continues because we respond to hatred with hatred.

I don’t know this woman’s story. I don’t know what put her to living on the street. She doesn’t know who I am. Yet, I was almost willing to act against everything I believe because she hurt me so deeply. Why is it easier to respond out of hatred than out of love?

 
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The Author : Neomi DeAnda
Neomi DeAnda writes from Chicago.
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