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Hope Against Racism Essay, Research Paper

He was a white man in a Confederate flag T-shirt come to a rally of the Ku Klux Klan. She was a face in the crowd, a black teen-ager who wanted to “verbally harass him.”

But the crowd became a mob. They descended upon him, pummeled him to the ground, started stomping him with their feet and hitting him with signposts. And Keshia Thomas faced a decision: to join the mob or to be a human being.

This was Keshia’s choice: She fell atop the prostrate man, used her body to shield him from the blows. Ask why she did it and she says, “I was just doing what my parents taught me: Do what’s right. You can’t change a man’s view by killing him.”

It happened a week ago in Ann Arbor, Mich., the compelling sideshow to a human carnival. Fifteen Ku Klux Klansmen had come to rally for the cause of hatred. But an estimated 1,000 anti-Klan demonstrators, a multiethnic tidal wave of outraged humanity, went after them. They broke windows, threw rocks and eventually had to be driven back by police using tear gas. Eleven people were arrested; at least two were reported injured.

It’s a story with multiple morals: that we must defend free speech, especially for those views we abhor; that it is too frighteningly easy for a rational group to become a blood-lusting mob; that supporting a noble cause doesn’t give you license to beat a man’s head in with a signpost.

But the most compelling lesson is embodied by Keshia’s choice.

She is, in some ways, a standard-issue teen-ager. Eighteen years old, laughs easily, dreams of becoming a forest ranger, wants to go to college but worries that she can’t afford it. She says when she rushed at the man in the Confederate flag shirt, “I wanted to say, `what did I ever do to you? There’s no reason to fear me.”’

About that man, we know next to nothing at this writing. Not his name, not his hometown, not his Klan affiliation, if any. We do know that that shirt, worn in that place, was provocative. And that the provocation gives the lie to lost-cause apologists who claim Dixie’s battle flag is a benign banner of Southern heritage and nothing more. It certainly wasn’t understood that way by whites and blacks on the streets of Ann Arbor. One suspects it wasn’t even understood that way by the man who wore it.

Don’t you wonder what went through his mind as that black woman saved his body and maybe even his life? Don’t you wonder what he says to the face he meets every morning in the mirror?

Maybe we’ll never know. But then, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is Keshia’s choice.

It’s a choice that’s remarkable because she’s black, because she’s young and yes, because it flies against the choices we as a nation have made in recent years: Black and white demagogues blustering, Reginald Denny and Rodney King bludgeoned, Jews burned out in Harlem, blacks shot down in North Carolina and sanctuaries of God, burning, blackening, in the heat of arson fires. Each representing a decision by some one of us to endorse rage, to permit partitioning, to seek comfort with racism.

And to harden _ many of us calcifying our souls against the notion that it is possible, or even desirable, for Americans to cross the divide and embrace as families do.

But the most effective champion for human equality our nation has ever known believed that embrace inevitable and redeemed the hateful without once raising a hand in anger. The would-be disciples of tolerance who rampaged last week in Michigan should seek Martin Luther King’s example and understand that he would have deplored their violence and applauded Keshia’s choice.

That a scattered few do not, that some in Ann Arbor have been heard grumbling that she should have left the man to his fate, only speaks of how far they have drifted from their own humanity. And of the crying need to get back.

Keshia’s choice was to affirm what they have lost.

Keshia’s choice was human.

Keshia’s choice was hope.

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