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A Thought for Today


by Terrell Tebbetts

    A Lyon College student gave me hope last week—hope that we may eventually overcome the country’s racial and political divisions.
    Let’s call the student Ashton. He’s an African American freshman from Little Rock. Studying English and journalism, he wants to work in public relations and advertising. This summer he’ll be working in various campaigns for the state Democratic Party.
    He was telling me about his friendship with another student. We’ll call him McCauley. He’s a white senior from northwest Arkansas heading for law school next fall. This summer he’ll be working in various campaigns for the state Republican Party.
    Ashton told me that mutual friends often say how odd it is that he and McCauley are such great friends, telling him that they’re “complete opposites.”
    “But we’re not complete opposites,” Ashton laughed. “We’re alike in a lot of ways.”
    Having taught and advised both young men, I agreed with Ashton readily. They’re both well balanced, serious about their studies but also happy to kick back and enjoy a good party. They’re both friendly to all, with almost constant smiles on their faces.
    “You know,” I said to Ashton, “people who call you complete opposites don’t get it. Sure, you’re a Democrat and McCauley’s a Republican, but that’s just a disagreement on means to an end. You both want the country to arrive at the same end.
    “You both want the country to be prosperous, you both want all kids to get good educations that give them an equal start on adult life, and you both want racism to disappear completely. When you know you want the same ends, you don’t become opposites just because you have different visions on how to get there.”
    My exchange with Ashton reminded me of an exchange I had with a reader after my columns in January discounting the power of so-called “white privilege.” I’d brought up data countering the claims that race holds people back these days, arguing that people of color have the same chance to succeed as whites if they study in high school, go to college or trade school, get married before having children, and work hard in their jobs.
    When my reader begged to differ, I knew we really agreed on ends; we both want a society where the color of one’s skin means no more than the color of one’s hair. We just disagree on how close we are to that end—whether current social differences have more to do with self-destructive behaviors than with “white privilege.”
    So I urged my reader to remember that people of goodwill often agree on ends but disagree on how to get to those ends. Those who disagree with us merely on means are not our enemies. They’re our allies, for they’re often right.
    My student Ashton already recognizes what the poet William Blake wrote 200 years ago: “Opposition is true friendship.”

Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature at Lyon College. He can be reached at terrell.tebbetts@lyon.edu