Turn on the news and you expect to see people of different races and politics denouncing each other. That’s why what happened last week on “The Kelly File,” Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program, was so remarkable.
Following the expulsion of Parker Rice and Levi Pettit, two Sigma Alpha Epsilon members at the University of Oklahoma, upon the video release of a racist sing-a-long they led, Isaac Hill, the president of the university’s Black Student Association, told Kelly the students should be forgiven.
Kelly, who is normally in complete control, was stunned and nearly speechless. It was not what she — or any of us — expected. Judgment, retribution, rioting, censorship, shaming, loss of job and prestige are the norm, not forgiveness, especially when the offending students, at the time, hadn’t asked for it.
Hill told Kelly: “It is not smart to fight hate with hate. It is only logical to fight hate with love.”
This brings to mind what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
What would have better served the interests of OU, Rice and Pettit and the larger student body? Instead of focusing on punishment and expulsion, shutting down the fraternity house and evicting all its residents, the goal should have been redemption. Redemption is a harder road to travel, but the destination should be to change the students’ thinking, not bludgeon them into silence where any racist thoughts might fester and grow worse.
How to accomplish this?
In today’s world of instant communication, which is different from conversation, we know our fellow Americans by categories. We are all parts of groups, often pitted against each other. The integrity of the individual has been gobbled up by groupthink. If you are African-American, for example, you are supposed to be liberal, angry at white people and vote only for Democrats.
Those who stray from this ideological and political plantation are to be denounced and expelled.
What should have happened at the University of Oklahoma and at other universities that are now uncovering similar racist incidents by white students is to require them to get to know people of different races. White students should be mandated, as a condition of their continued enrollment, to spend time with students of other races. Dine with them, take in a basketball game with them, meet their parents and listen as they tell their stories. Everyone has a story, but too many of us are unwilling to listen.
Listening to another person’s story humanizes them and fosters equality far more than any civil rights legislation, or attempts to control speech. Many people have said that while they regard Congress as corrupt, they like their congressman because they know him or her. That’s the point. Knowing someone removes, or at least diminishes, any stigma we might have previously associated with a person.
In an article for Psychology Today, “The Power of Forgiveness: Why Revenge Doesn’t Work,” Dr. Judith Orloff writes: “…revenge reduces you to your worst self, puts you on the same level with those spiteful people we claim to abhor.”
Isaac Hill told Megyn Kelly he hopes the racist comments can be used as a chance to learn and grow. Offered several opportunities by Kelly to criticize the white students, Hill declined. “Those behaviors are taught,” he said. “We are all born innocent people.”
In the musical “South Pacific,” librettist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote, “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” One can also be taught to love.
Again, Dr. King said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.