News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Bates book an enemy of simplistic hatred

Congratulations to Martine Bates, a former Priceville Elementary principal, for not taking the easy way out in a children's biography of a Confederate politician.

Our world is chock-full of hatred. It is an emotion that shapes our world into a frightening place. People of one faith hate those of another; people of one color hate the other; ethnicity, language, financial status and politics are triggers for hate and often violence.

Hatred is pervasive in part because it is easy. It takes less time and effort to hate than to understand.

The subject of Ms. Bates' book, William Lowndes Yancey, is easy to hate. His legacy is that of a man who supported slavery, supported secession from the Union and, to the extent that he pushed Alabamians into the Confederacy, was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

As parents, we tend to foster the emotion of blind hatred in our children. We do so not out of malice, but as a method of shaping our children into honorable adults. We try to make sure that, when our children witness people with distasteful value systems or poor conduct, they know those people are bad. Our underlying fear is that our children will adopt their behavior or beliefs if we do not present them as an example of what not to be.

However sincere the motive, our efforts to present bad guys as one-dimensional has tragic effects. It lulls our children into the belief that people have only one dimension. It eases them into a practice at which we excel: simplistic hatred.

Ms. Bates could have painted William Lowndes Yancey that way, plastered his multiple dimensions onto a canvas that only holds one. Indeed, that would have been the easiest way to write the biography. His profile could have been the image of all that was wrong with the ante-bellum South.

Instead, though, she shaped him into a three-dimensional character. She explained to children that he did bad things, but she also took the time to show his other dimensions. She wrote of the death of his father, and of the pain he felt when his mother remarried an abolitionist. She wrote of the resentment that shaped him into an advocate of slavery and secession.

Ms. Bates' book teaches the evils of slavery and the wisdom that comes with understanding. It teaches that blind hatred is too easy. Understanding is an enemy of violence, and understanding comes in three dimensions.

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