What Pine Cones Taught Me About Racism


steep bank cleared of pinecones

Now that I’ve cleaned up the blackberries in our yard enough to hire a contractor, I’ve started weeding the front bank. It’s the worst place on the property to weed: it’s very steep, the soil is hard clay and the weeds are tough. But what makes it even worse are the pine cones. Every time I reach for the weeds, my fingers fumble—hidden under the leaves, nested at the base of the stems, are three or four pine cones. I can’t get a firm grip on the weeds, so I end up snapping them off at the ground rather than pulling them up by the roots. Pretty soon they’ll be back again, just as vigorous as before. Indeed, some of these weeds that look so young and tender have roots that are very strong and very deep. It’s the same with racism.


The Obvious and The Hidden

We see the policies and practices that need to change so that all people have equal opportunity and equitable treatment. So we take action: we change the policies, rewrite the laws, restore rights. But underneath all this are hidden beliefs and attitudes that keep us from really getting at the root of it all.


As I keep working on the front bank, I discover that I need to work at both levels—the weeds and the pine cones, the obvious and the hidden. It requires going over the same area repeatedly, layer by layer over time. Those weeds I broke off to get to the pine cones will come back. But I couldn’t find the pine cones until I tackled the weeds.


Uncovering hidden beliefs and attitudes takes constant effort. Every time I think I’ve conquered one, I find another. How many times do I make a snap judgment about someone based on their appearance? How many times do I fail to even notice I’ve done that? How many times do I reach beyond my initial response to see the beautiful soul of the person standing in front of me?


The Path to Healing

Just as with the pine cones, this effort pays off too. When I finish weeding the bank, the plants can thrive and the garden blooms. When I clear these hidden beliefs and attitudes, friendship thrives and I discover a new brother or sister.


And this is truly what it’s all about—a homecoming. Our family has been divided for far too long and we all are hurting from it. As we learn to listen, to understand, to value one another, we not only connect with each other, we heal ourselves.

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