The idolatry of race is preventing us from seeing each other,” said Ismael Hernandez, a radio talk-show guest, recently. I had to agree. Growing up white on a Lakota reservation gave me an early sensitivity to race.
Hernandez was raised under his father’s indoctrination as a founding member of the Puerto Rico Communist Party. Separately , Hernandez had said his dad was obsessed with revolution, and forced him and his siblings to listen to Fidel Castro’s “never-ending speeches.”
Eventually, Hernandez would accompany him to Communist cell meetings centered on socialism and defeating the United States, he said. All this made him hate the United States and capitalism, and blame them both for the poverty around them.
But sometimes, when his father wasn’t near, Hernandez’s mom would sneak the kids to Mass, he said, forming within him a “double-consciousness:” revolution and socialism on one side, and God on the other. More from Roxane B. Salonen
A friend later coaxed him to America, he said, “to the guts of ‘the monster,’ as we called the United States.” His strong academics earned him a full-ride scholarship to college. “I hated their guts and they were rewarding me.”
Now free to explore, read and think, Hernandez began questioning his earlier assumptions, he said, discovering that our value comes not from doing one’s duty, but in simply existing.
“When I came to America, my lungs filled with the breath of freedom,” he said, noting that he was simultaneously becoming estranged from his father, who didn’t “recognize the most radical of his sons now becoming part of the enemy.”
Thomas Sowell’s “The Vision of the Anointed” opened Hernandez’s eyes to his earlier perceptions about life, and race, he said, and he stopped blaming whites for all Blacks’ problems, understanding that if his life and success depends on others, and not himself, he remains a slave.
Hernandez eventually founded the Freedom & Virtue Institute, offering “commonality training,” which respects individuality, in place of diversity training.
“We do not appreciate people by learning how many things make my group different from other groups,” he said. “The universal commonality of human dignity motivates us to learn more about each other.”
My years on the Fort Peck Reservation showed me that. We didn’t know we were supposed to be afraid of one another, or hate one another, unless someone pointed it out, and even then, most of us sensed deep down it wasn’t quite right.
Hernandez, having realized his worth in God’s eyes, concluded that, especially now, “We should put aside race and look at the person.”
In the radio interview, he said that diversity objectives “should be a result of a journey of encounter, a long dialogue,” through which, even when difficult, “we come together.”
“We have to go back to kindergarten,” he concluded, noting that we’re “all wonderful, and broken at the same time,” and that our innate yearning to encounter one another in our sameness should be honored and encouraged.
Imagine, our five-year-old ways of interacting could be how we turn things aright.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Aug. 15, 2022.]