-By Terry Howard
The first thing that caught my eye when I entered that carpet store was the separation between the colorful, expensive carpets lined up vertically on the right wall and, by contrast, the mundane remnants stacked in horizontal piles on the left. Oddly, those images got me thinking about the signs of and reasons why human separation exists in society. It also reminded me of something Oprah Winfrey wrote recently.
Let’s start with Oprah.
Now with the exception of a billion dollars – like she got it, I don’t – Ms. Winfrey and I have something in common; we both know, as millions do, that the truth is that our nation has reached a tipping point, a fraying at dangerous levels where, in the words of Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, we’re dropping verbal litter into the public square. And it seems that there’s no end in sight. As Winfrey’s puts it, hatred and division have ruptured our national soul. Without naming the names (she didn’t have to) of those fostering the vitriol, in her magazine’s year-end commentary she rattles off a few examples of hate crimes that have become so routine in the divided nation of America.
More examples? Omigod, where do we start?
If it’s not calling the police on an African-American guest in a hotel lobby, shooting up a synagogue, vilifying immigrants as killers and rapists, polluting social media with poisonous language, it’s one thing or another. Hard to believe that we’ve reached a point in our national discourse, if we can call it that, where the “MF” word is thrown about so callously as a cudgel.
“We’re waging a war among and upon ourselves,” Oprah writes, “and leading ourselves further into darkness. All of us are here on earth demeaning each other, thinking that skin color, ethnicity, or territory is the reason to devalue another human; killing the “other” for how they look, how they worship, how they speak, how they act. For simply being.”
“Well, hear this: WE. ARE. IN. TROUBLE,” Oprah warns. “And only a deep collective reckoning can bring us back from the brink.”
But back now to the carpet story.
I walked over to get a closer look at the remnants; they too, each one, of different shapes, sizes and “skin colors.” While some were “loud,” others were serene and subtle. Many were jagged around the edges, evidence of being cut off and cast off from mainstream carpets on the other side of the room for “simply being.”
At one time – and to someone – these remnants were valued. But at some point, they may have been deemed unable to fit in because they may not have looked or behaved the part. Or maybe they were replaced over time by an infusion of “new blood” and put out to pasture on the other side of the room with other remnants.
Now if we were to take a closer look at the “culture” of those carpets on the right, an honest assessment may yield some evidence of exclusion, some explicit and implicit biases weaved into the fabric; those that favor some and marginalize others; biases that diminish the long-term durability and value of those carpets.
Advises Winfrey, “We must find a way to come together. Both sides – all sides – must stop attacking and maligning. Our goal must be decency and respect for every human being we encounter. Hate is potent, but so is kindness. And goodness and grace. Use yours generously.”
So rather than disrespecting, insulting, “calling the police” on or shooting up the worship places of those remnants, why not invite them back into the tapestry, the mighty American mosaic, one held together by our shared values, our goodness and our grace? I think that John Donne couldn’t have said it any better:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…..Any man’s death diminishes me, because I’m involved in mankind…..And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Oh, by the way. Several of those remnants are now in my home (and they “all don’t look alike to me” either).
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, trainer and story-teller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, the American Diversity Report, Catalyst, The Shenandoah Valley Hit and the Atlanta Business Journal and founder of “26 Tiny Paintbrushes,” the writer’s guild. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org