Hap Alexander column: The more we know, the less we fear
James Teal was one of the first black students in formerly all white Boyden High School in the mid ’60’s. I knew him initially during my feeble attempt at football in the fall of my freshman year. He was a football star, a tall guy with an easy smile. We all looked up to him, literally.
I really don’t remember where we were all headed, but when a bunch of my buddies and I stopped by my house to report in to my mother after school one afternoon, Robby Gill, James Teal and I went inside to see her. I’ll never forget that moment. My mother was a short lady in her mid-40s, and she met us in the front hall. Robby was tall and thin, I was well over 6 feet, and Teal, well, he seemed a foot taller that I was.
Now, picture the four of us in the hall in a semicircle with my little mother in the middle, standing less than two feet from this huge football star, about whom she had heard much.
She leaned her head back, looking straight up into his face and said, “You must be James Teal,” to which he answered, “Yes, ma’am.”
What stands out in my memory of this moment is that this little lady surrounded by these three tall guys, one of whom was black, just considered him a tall guy. There was no barrier or weirdness to it at all. To her, he was just another one of my friends. That was it. We checked in with her and went on about whatever we were doing.
I lost track of Teal when we went of to college, but his friendship in high school helped me avoid being generally afraid of black people.
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We are all basically afraid of the unknown.
We may perceive something or someone with which we are unfamiliar as being evil or bad, so we tend to fear what we don’t understand. We stand on what we know, and we denounce someone or their beliefs without knowing what they know.
We may not even attempt to understand someone who may look different or whose beliefs may be different from that with which we are familiar ó to the point of believing that someone who is not like we are or doesn’t believe what we believe to be inferior.
“…. until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; ….. until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; …. until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; ….. until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; ….. until that day, the dream of lasting peace will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; ….. until bigotry and prejudice have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will ….” Haile Selassie, in a speech before the United Nations, October 1963.
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The recent news reports about that misunderstanding between the Boston police officer and the black professor got me thinking about how such a thing could happen. I believe fear is the underlying cause of all of the stir. I wonder if either of them really knew much about the other. I doubt it. Maybe the beer they had with the president would have never been necessary if they had shared a beer or a ball game or had some interaction during their formative years, instead of developing stereotype images of each other. That “fear of the unknown” is, in my opinion, the basis for their fear of each other, and probably the cause for each one’s reaction.
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Sure, we knew Teal was black, just as sure as the folks at Soldiers Memorial AME Zion knew that I was white when I visited, but it was not an issue. It was an opportunity…. it is an opportunity for us to learn about each other…. to break down the barrier of the fear of the unknown, until that fear is “replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will ….”
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Former Salisbury resident Hap Alexander lives in Topsail Beach.