I will not Hate, I will not Persecute

By Brian Lawrence (1996)

The old man gazed out his front window. The heat hung above the pavement, shimmering like a wraith in the brutal South Miami summer. Swirls of dust floated in the tepid air, doing dances to unseen melodies. Three small children instigated the dance, as they played with plastic soldiers, conquering the world in their miniature minds.

A presence took shape in the corner of the man's eye. Another small child materialized from out of the shimmering heat and hesitantly approached the threesome engaged in their imaginary battle. His dark eyes, wide with anticipation, darted nervously from side to side. The old man recognized but did not know the new boy. Four days ago, he had watched his family move into the pale green house two down from him.

The man opened his porch door and stepped outside. The heat hit him like opening a blast furnace. An impotent breeze mixed a stale concoction of mildew and exhaust. The sounds of innocence, playful, joyous sounds, swirled through the heavy air causing him to smile as he settled into his cane chair to watch the new boy. Whether the creaks and snaps came from the brittle chair or the brittle man was indeterminate. Memories of his own childhood flickered in his old, worn-out mind, like moths, never settling on, but attracted to the light of consciousness.

The new boy stopped as he reached the group of playing children. His black skin, darker than midnight, glistened in the virulent sun. In a weak, high-pitched voice, he said, "Bonjour. My name is Pierre St. Lyon. May I play with you?"

The boy spoke with a thick Haitian accent, but the old man understood every word as Pierre carefully enunciated each syllable.

The other boys turned. Jimmy Jackson, the old man's neighbor, pushed himself from the ground, an evil grin on his face and asked, "Why you talk so funny?"

Pierre stepped back, his eyes wide. His gaze shifted from face to face. When the others made no move, he hesitantly stepped forward and said, "I am from Haiti. I speak Creole as well as English."

The old man winced at Jimmy's cruelty, as the boy pushed Pierre back. "Go home, island boy," said Jimmy.

Jimmy then bent down and gathered a stone and threw it at Pierre. The other boys joined in and laughed heartily as Pierre fled, rocks landing all around him, throwing up tiny clouds of dust like miniature bombs of hate.

The group of boys stopped throwing rocks and went back to their play. Pierre halted his retreat, turned, and stood with his head down. A tear formed in the old man's eye as he watched the scene. The forlorn look on Pierre's face wrenched at his heart.

Incensed, the old man stomped off his porch. Jimmy heard him coming and turned, amusement still tickling his eyes. "Jimmy, you boy, come here," the old man said in an authoritarian tone; one not to be disobeyed.

"What's you want, old man?"

"Get yo ass over here, boy 'fore I come drag you over."

Slowly getting up, Jimmy trudged over to the old man. As he reached striking distance, the man grabbed Jimmy by the ear, pulling him over to his porch.

"Ow, man, why'd you do that?"

"Because you're short."

"I ain't short."

"Shorter than me."

The old man picked up a small pebble and flung it at Jimmy, bouncing it off his ten-year old chest.

"Hey, man. What's the matter with you? Now why'd you do that?"

"Because you're young," replied the old man.

"So? That don't give you no right to throw rocks at me."

"Oh, but if you talked funny that would?" The old man leaned down putting his face very close to Jimmy's. A look of understanding spread across the boy's face.

Jimmy looked down and watched his dark, bare toe making swirls in the grass. "We was just having some fun."

"What you were doing is called persecution," the man said in a stern voice.

"What's persecution?" Jimmy looked up, his small face inquisitive.

"Persecution is when one group of people do bad things to another group because of some difference. They act out of fear or misunderstanding. They're unwilling to accept the differences. This fear leads to jealousy and hate. The hate leads to persecution. The persecuted people feel worthless and helpless. The persecutors feel powerful and dominant."

Jimmy started to protest but the old man continued. "Let's say you walk up to a group of white boys and asked them to play. They beat you up because you're black. That's persecution."

"That's not the same. We just thought his voice was funny."

The old man twisted Jimmy's ear again. "It is the same. No matter what the reason, skin color, accent, religious belief. It is hatred, it is persecution." Letting go of the ear, the old man softened his voice and said, "Just say to yourself, 'I will not hate, I will not persecute.' Now go and apologize to that boy. Open yourself up. He can teach you many wonderful things."

"Yes, sir." Jimmy slowly sauntered toward Pierre.

As Jimmy approached Pierre, the Haitian boy backed off with a fearful look. Jimmy held out his hands, palms up. The old man could not hear the conversation, but smiled along with Pierre when the Haitian boy's white teeth lit up like a marquee. He followed Jimmy back to the group and the four of them played for hours.

"Yo, Mom. I'm home."

"Hi, Jimmy. What's you been up to?"

"I met a new friend today. He's from Haiti. He told us all about his home."

"That's wonderful, Jimmy. Wash your hands for dinner," replied his mother.

"Yes, ma'am."

A thin, wiry man in a stained tee shirt blocked Jimmy's way from the kitchen.

"Hi, Dad." Jimmy's smile vanished when he looked up and saw the expression of pure rage.

"You was playing with a Haitian boy? Filthy people." He struck Jimmy squarely on the side of his head. The boy fell to the floor in front of the stove. "Don't you ever play with him again. Them Haitians bring AIDS and practice that voodoo. Stay away from him, you hear?"

Jimmy winced at the venom from his father's mouth and cowered from the pointing finger. He lay his head against the oven door, the ringing in his ears incessant. A phrase, like a mantra, the old man's words, sounded in his head repeatedly, "I will not hate, I will not persecute."