I’ve been appalled by the displays of hatred directed toward African-Americans, Muslims, women, Hispanics and anyone else who isn’t white and ultra-conservative. And yet something troubles me about Hillary Clinton’s recent characterization of people who hold these beliefs as “deplorables,” beyond its political clumsiness.

I fear “deplorables,” and I want to hate them back. But I know them too well. I was born and raised in the “deplorable” heartland: the South of “whites-only” schools, churches and water fountains.

I was loved and shaped by people with deplorable beliefs who said and did deplorable things. And I received enough humanity from this upbringing to go through a long, painful reckoning with my own prejudices and distorted perceptions.

In the face of hatred, violence, racism and injustice, moral outrage is a necessary response. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that each of us has been wounded and damaged by forces beyond our control, been born into cultures and families not of our choosing, affected by ripples of cruelty set loose long before our birth.

Minds and hearts turned toward hate cannot be changed by judging or demeaning the victim, who has unsurprisingly become the perpetrator. Pain, humiliation and fear harden into masks of power, hatred and violence; these most primitive forms of self-defense indicate the depths of the damage and fear in the most troubled among us.

Diminishing the humanity of those already deficient in awareness and compassion will not enable them to become whole. Only regarding them with compassion has any chance at all.

We actually do have to love our neighbor and our enemy as ourselves. Only seeing our flawed, weak and frightened selves reflected in theirs, and theirs in our own, has any chance in healing the chasms between us, among us and within us.

Keith Walker

Saco