Some of the most powerful lessons in life can come in unexpected ways. One professor’s five minute impromptu lesson on racism is one I’ll never forget.
The most enriching lesson I ever got in college has nothing to do with the course I was taking. It was Wednesday morning at 8:00am. The class was English Composition. The topic- Earwax. See what I mean?
Now why would a professor teaching English Composition spend a whole lesson on, of all things, Earwax? He did it because he was the kind of teacher who recognized opportunities to shape young minds. Since this class was for freshman, he could reach his students early on in their college experience, and reach them in a way that would profoundly shape their lives in the years to come.
I’m assuming most of you haven’t had a chance to hear the Earwax lecture- so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes here. “In genetics,” the Professor said, “the DNA from person to person is for all practical purposes, identical. What makes us different from each other is far, far less than 1% of our genes.”
By this time most of us were looking at our watches and scratching our heads. Had we wandered into the wrong class?
The Professor continued, “Now- there are a couple varieties of earwax. You have the crumbly kind and the stuff that’s more like a gooey gel.”
We all looked at each other. Clearly the Professor had lost his marbles. This was English Comp for crying out loud.
“If you take the amount of genetic material responsible for the construction of human earwax and compare it to the amount of genetic material responsible for the difference in the appearance of skin color- you’ll find there is far more DNA devoted to earwax than is devoted to the color of your skin.” He stopped for a dramatic pause. The room held a sort of reverent silence for several seconds. When this nugget of wisdom sank in and the light bulb went on, the professor smiled a sly smile.
“That’s all. Class dismissed.” It was 8:05am.
We all kind of shuffled into the hallway and chuckled at one another. “He’s a strange one isn’t he?”
“Yeah, but he’s the best.”
As I walked home from class I actually laughed while I considered this bit of wisdom. I imagined the racists of the world organizing society according to earwax. Those with the crumbly earwax had one set of rights. Those with smooth had another. Whoever was in the majority ruled over those who didn’t share this genetic link. “We crumbly folks are superior,” I imagined them saying. “Isn’t it obvious?”
When broken down into its simple parts- racism is laughable. It simply defies all reason. The consequences of racism, however- are anything but funny. From the moment a child is born, he or she is a sponge to the world, and messages both subtle and outspoken take root. Minorities are taught from an early age that the world is not quite as kind to them, and for no reason other than the color of their skin- something that matters even less than measly earwax.
That’s all. Go home and think about it.