I never met my Grandpa Heinz. He died before I was born. I have come to understand what he was like through stories told to me by my Father. In the 1930’s, Grandpa Heinz impressed upon my Dad the importance of judging a man by his character and not his appearance, station in life, color, culture, or creed. It is striking how much ahead of the times he was, both then and now. I would have loved to have met him to discover more about this amazing coal miner from Illinois.
At a very young age, my Dad had the opportunity to live out the values he was taught while working for a Ford dealership. One day a black gentleman in overalls came into the dealership looking for a new car. The snickering senior sales associates, no doubt judging his ability to purchase a vehicle by his skin color and appearance, decided to pass on this individual asking my Dad the rookie to assist him instead.
Dad with the same respect and interest he would give anyone, showed him any car on the Ford lot and showroom. Not satisfied with what he saw, Dad suggested he look at the Lincoln lot as well. The brand new Lincoln in the showroom caught his eye and he requested a test drive. The gentleman loved the car and decided to buy the vehicle. Heading back to the office to prepare the necessary paperwork, Dad asked him how he would like to pay for the vehicle. At that point the man pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills, and said, “cash.” The senior sales associates sat there stunned, not realizing it was their racist and classist attitudes that cost them a very significant sale, and something much costlier than that, a part of their soul.
The origin of racism goes back to the rebellion of Satan in heaven. The root of racism is actually the spirit of division that has resulted in enslavement, oppression, and ethnic cleansing. People divide over skin color, culture, religion, geography, income, education, employment, and even church denomination. A man who would bristle at the notion he was racist has little problem feeling superior because of where he goes to church. A woman who would never think of using a racial slur, arrogantly walks the earth because of her birth place. All over the nation, and excused in the name of cultural preference, the most segregated hour of the week continues to be the church hour.
Haters come in all hues, but they are easier to spot when they reprehensively act out in violence. It’s much harder to discern the latent spirit of division in the heart that would like to dominate us all. Jesus said we cannot claim to love God while hating our brother. Long before the enslavement of our African brothers and sisters, the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians by the Turks, the genocide of the Jews at the hands of Hitler’s monsters, the history of oppression and civil rights violations in our nation, or the inconceivable behavior of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, people entertained thoughts and attitudes that when unchecked grew into persecution, discrimination, and violence. It’s fine to post a meme of solidarity over the issue on Facebook, but what really matters is showing respect, born of transformed hearts and minds, to everyone in our daily lives.
Kevin Costner played NASA Space Task Group director Al Harrison in the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures, a story that highlights the role of African American women in the success of the U.S space program. When Harrison learns his human computer, Katherine Johnson played by Taraji Henson, had been running a half-mile several times a day to the colored restroom, he tore down the signs differentiating restrooms and declared, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.” Like racism, the only time when we don’t pee the same color is when we are sick.