Tag Archives: prejudice

Five Minute Friday – “Speak”

Speak.

Express your thoughts, if you can…

Are you permitted to express yourself in your current environment? Will anyone perceive your expression? Will they act positively on it?

Are you capable of expressing yourself? Must it be vocalized, or can you use signs, gestures, or writing? Again, will anyone perceive your expression, and will they act positively on it?

Are you right in expressing yourself? Could you cause undue harm? Is it your thought, or is it a thought you’ve explored, is it factual?

In America, thanks to the first amendment to the constitution, you have the right to express yourself. But please, America, let’s express ourselves responsibly, or that right may disappear under the guise of enforcing safe expressions.

Ask those who may not express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Speak up, responsibly.


This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday link-up!

The votes are in – now what?

November 7th, 2012, the day after… Voting in America has happened once again, and I have been more involved in it than ever before.  No, I didn’t march with banners or knock on neighborhood doors to encourage people to agree with me, I did something that’s apparently becoming rare – I was on the front lines of vote collection.  For a week, we went to hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes to make sure noone who wanted to participate in this activity lost their opportunity to do so.

Then, I set the alarm for 4am, hit the snooze one time too many, and dashed off in the cold dark almost-morning to be one of 5 people in our precinct who would work 13 hours straight checking id’s, collecting signatures, and handing out ballots, one per customer.  We knew early that we would have more voters than ballots, and we called in to say so, a good two hours before the fateful moment arrived and we had to tell a group of tired voters that they could not yet record their choices.  Turns out, as one voter learned by calling the local news station, that 14 precincts in our area also came up short on those precious pieces of paper.  It begs for a better system, or at least the faith and preparation for a higher voter turnout, especially when the stakes are long declared to be so high, no matter which side you’re voting for.

I was pleased, all week, to find once again that the dreaded ‘us’ and ‘them’ who are so often depicted as pure good or pure evil are frankly just humans…all a bit of both.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not given up on the theology of fallen man, the critical need for salvation, the only Savior, and the priority of becoming more Christlike in character… but when it comes to politics, we need to have more dialog and less dogma, because both sides have their good ideas and their bad ones, and both have proven themselves equally susceptible to greed, corruption, lust, and favoritism.

For example, I did a little internal huffing and puffing at the lack of response and support the Inspector received from the, ahem, ‘other’ party, and began to fret about how the votes couldn’t be collected if there was not representation from both sides.  At nearly the last minute, the delegation showed up (they had been waiting at a different location) and I was forced to swallow my thoughts as I realized that I was the only member of my party who would be supporting the Inspector’s efforts and responsibilities.  I served two roles, because the people who were called on decided to make other plans rather than follow-up and follow-through.  It’s not glamorous and not high-paying, but it’s very necessary if we’re to keep our civilized system of government selection operational.

We’re keeping the president that has held the title for the last four years.  I’ve heard from people of both parties that this is not the preferred result, but nevertheless, it is the result we have.  From here, we move forward…it’s the only direction life and history move.  Perhaps some of us will take this result as a call to action – not action in the upper echelons, as that will not be changing for 2-4 years unless there’s another tragic event (may it not be so, for several reasons), but action at the ground level, among the ‘normal’ people who live day in & day out with the need to feed their families and the scarcity of options to earn income without selling body & soul to the corporate machine.

If you don’t like that your children are graduating without the capacity to write, spell, think rationally, or deduce cause and effect from the evidence provided, don’t bother Washington with it, get yourselves to some PTA meetings.  Arrange a lunch for principals and administrators in your community and express your concerns – along with proposed answers, and counter-answers for the concerns your proposals might generate.  Invite people who hold more than one perspective, and have an honest civilized discussion about what would be best for your children and the society they will inherit responsibility for.  Commit a place and a little volunteer time on a regular schedule to tutor students who are struggling in a subject. Not only will it help them to learn the material, it could reignite the joy you once had in science, history, literature, or math  – subjects you don’t get another chance to explore in most careers.

If you don’t like that your community resembles a war-zone or third world trash-heap town, don’t call on the Armani-suited Senator who drives by in a parade every 2-4 years schmoozing for votes. Instead, roll up your sleeves and grab a box of trash bags, some brooms, and the local teenagers looking for something important (or at least interesting) to do.  Pick a street or corner that will be renovated this weekend, and another one next.  Tell your mayor and police what you plan to do, and trade in your picket signs for paint brushes.  Talk to each other as you work, reminisce about the days when there was a grocer who knew his customers by name, and the neighborhood families of every heritage carried food to their grieving neighbor’s family when the mother was sick and dying.  This is the country we once were, and the country we could be again – 9/11 and hurricane damage have proven it. Now prove it in the day to day, stop waiting for disaster to give you an excuse (or remove excuses, whatever the case may be).

The point is, we can find reasons to be divided, and we can find reasons to be united.  It’s all in what we focus on and what we look for.  There are critical issues, monumental issues, and of course I believe in the positions and proposals I espouse, but darn it, there’s more to human society than ‘perfect us’ and ‘evil them’.  Can we start acting like it???

Scapegoat!

“Must I be the scapegoat for the damages to your community, real and perceived, because of my heritage?”

The previous article, ‘Prejudiced?‘, addresses my honest disagreement with the theory that everyone is prejudiced.  We do not all pre-judge negatively without evidence.  I do concede that we all automatically assesses new situations, people, and substances on the basis of what we already know and how much we are willing to explore beyond known parameters.  That’s our natural core learning process.

Wise parents employ this process as they tell a child that the stove is off-limits because it is hot and contact with its heat will hurt.  Then, either the child tests the theory for themselves or they trust the parent, generally a mix of both.  When the child then approaches a candle or a bonfire, the parent again says something like “ouch! hot!”, and the similarity of the situation is registered, in most cases without a flaming child to show for it.

It is possible, of course, to have too much of a good thing.  This is how ideas like prejudice and other forms of judgmental behavior get passed down through cultures, from generation to generation.  A parent, wishing the best (or at least the minimum pain) for their child, and knowing the harsh realities of the adult world around them, may warn that being friends with the pick-your-poison child down the street will result in pain.  Black, white, hispanic, Jewish, Asian, wealthy, poor, orphaned, offspring of an addict or pervert, crippled, stuttering, Christian, Mormon, Atheist…it really doesn’t matter.  Humans insist on sorting and determining their value by outranking other humans.  The sweet innocence of childhood that first sees another child as a potential playmate or competitor is twisted into seeing that child as a danger, if not directly, then by the response of the adults around them, starting at home.  The Disney film “Ruby Bridges” does a fabulous job of illustrating this point.

(spoiler alert) As the film concludes, some of the children make the brave choice to defy their parents’ restrictions and decide for themselves whether this different person is an acceptable playmate, at least within the boundaries of school.  Their courage, in part, comes from observing other adults around them who hold a different viewpoint and are willing to act on it in the face of great ugliness.  (end of spoiler)

I was raised to believe that God made Adam & Eve, their babies had babies, and here we are, all the same.  Everybody laughs, cries, and, according to a popular children’s book, Everyone Poops.  Between my family and some Divine arrangements, I had friends with every color of skin and hair, and most varieties of physical and/or mental limitations.  If you approach me like a reasonable person, I will respond to you as though you are a reasonable person, until you signify otherwise.  If you approach me as though your hair’s on fire, don’t get upset if I dump a bucket of water on your head.

This is why the assertion that “everybody is prejudiced” strikes me as a gross overstatement ignoring those of us who are not (we do exist).  Since there’s a commonly supported notion that white Christians who take Genesis literally and live above the poverty level are completely unaware of life in the real world, I decided to ask some of my real world friends about this alleged blind spot.  (Incidentally, the belief that I can’t think rationally or compassionately because I’m not an obvious member of the classically downtrodden groups smacks of it’s own prejudice, doesn’t it??  Logic and elementary mathematics would say ‘yes’.)

Ok, back to the discussions with a variety of people outside of my demographic group… (see? willingness to explore beyond my known parameters)  My neighbor answered with a sad smile, “Many people are still stuck in that way of thinking, so it’s hard to trust people until you get to know them.”  Fair.  The degree to which you’ve been convinced, directly or indirectly, of the danger of interacting with people like me will naturally dictate how much you’re willing to risk to give me a chance.  Some of us say “innocent until proven guilty”, others say “guilty until proven innocent”.  My neighbor and I are among the first group, willing to give people a chance, and both finding a new friend in the process.  We’ve both met people from the second group.

Another answer was striking, and I suddenly found myself carrying on two conversations at the same time.  Two men in ministry together, building bridges across the racial divide, were invited to speak in our class.  I stayed afterward to discuss this matter with them, specifically with the non-white man.  I reminded him that we’d never met, I’d never acted directly to harm him or his community, but if I showed up in his neighborhood, I would immediately be viewed with suspicion – he agreed to these points.  I then asked the fateful question,  “Must I be the scapegoat for the damages to your community, real and perceived, because of my heritage?”  Without a blink or a pause for thought or breath, he looked me in the eye and firmly said “Yes.”

As he was drawing a breath to explain, the other conversation started…  “I was the scapegoat for you.”  I struggled to take in the rest of what the man had to say, not because his words were difficult, but because I had ringing in my mind and soul the weight of this truth:  Jesus, perfectly innocent, willingly accepted the position of scapegoat.  He withstood both the wrath of God and the abuse of humanity, in order to give me a chance to be in relationship with Him.

The man standing before me went on to explain a strong community dynamic within certain cultures, including African, African American and Hispanic.  They grow up under a teaching that the sins of one stain them all.  The core mindset of these cultures declares that if one steals, all are guilty of theft and share, at least psychologically, in the need to provide restitution.  When they see others, said he, they don’t first see an independent individual, they see a representative of the whole community, equally deserving of whatever affection or wrath that community has earned.  This actually provides some insight to the longstanding and violent issues between groups in the Middle East, and by global extension, the vicious enmity they hold toward the Western world.  We won’t be able to resolve the matter militarily or diplomatically, it goes too deep.

I politely listened to all the man had to say, but I had already received a clear answer.  Jesus’ gentle whisper spoke volumes and left no room for rebuttal.  His command is that we follow Him, carry our own crosses, be His representatives to others, and extend His invitation to those around us.  Sometimes this means we are in the position of scapegoat.  He was ours.

It may interest future readers to know that this is published on Good Friday,
the day we consider Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

Prejudiced?

“Everyone is prejudiced, whether they know it or not.”

I’ve heard this statement several times lately, from sources I respect and others I don’t.  After careful consideration and personal evaluation, I still disagree.  Because I respect some of the people who buy into this absolute notion, I wonder if the matter might not come down to semantics, or, how the word ‘prejudice’ is being defined.

Prejudice, in my understanding, is a value judgment made based on the demographics of a person or group without regard to individual character or evidence. That evidence, given a chance, could support or refute the stereotype associated with the demographic group in question.  I’ll grant that every culture has a collection of stereotypes for the other cultures they associate with.  Unfortunately, there tends to be evidence to support stereotypes, but this is no excuse for applying them without considering the individual.  Doing so is both lazy and divisive.

There remains the fine line between ‘prejudice‘ and ‘bias‘, both being an advance opinion of an unknown (such as a person, community, food, etc).  Bias exists, because from the time we’re first exploring our world, we’re looking at what we don’t know through the lens of what we do know.

I don’t like peas, they’re green & mushy, so is asparagus.  My mom insisted on broadening my lens at every opportunity (thanks!), so I gave asparagus a fair try, and I like LOVE it.  Brussels sprouts could go either way.

Prejudice is stronger than bias, and is generally not founded in first hand experience.

As one continues sliding up the scale of intensity and distance from first hand experience, they approach the extreme called bigotry.  When I hear the phrase “everybody’s prejudiced”, usually a polite variation on “everyone’s a bigot and I must inform them”, I have this intense passive-aggressive desire to respond with “Thank you, how bigoted of you to say so.”  That would break my polite rule, so I don’t.  I also eat Brussels Sprouts for the sake of the polite rule, though I have assessed them & determined that I don’t like them.  At least I gave them a fair try.  Incidentally, the polite rule has also expanded my palate to a tolerance for peas.

This takes me back to my perspectives on people, and my genuine longstanding habit of giving everyone a fair chance to show/tell me who they are, stereotypes aside.  I start, as we all do, with identifying familiar aspects – the way they carry themselves or speak makes certain suggestions based on the qualities of other people who have the same manner or expressions.  As we get to know one another, given the chance, I then decide (as with b-sprouts) whether I enjoy them in large doses or small, can choke them down when necessary, or need to bury them in cheese and salt.  Some, like chicken livers, don’t get a second chance.  Others, like chocolate & potato chips, I (almost) can’t get enough of.

I’m willing to concede that we all make determinations about people, and we all do so with the information that we have and the level of exploration we are willing to apply.  I am not prepared to say we all are prejudiced, because the strength of the word implies that the decision is made and negative action is taken without consideration for individual varieties.  Actually, 3 of the 6 definitions for prejudice on dictionary.com declare it to be negative, 2 neutral, and 1 circular.

During my soul searching over this topic, I took opportunities to discuss the question (very carefully) with a few people from the ‘other side’ of the demographic ‘tracks’.  This leads to the next topic, Scapegoat!.

It’s not your demographic, it’s your inappropriate behavior!

Here’s the disclaimer – the following is a rant – if your offend-o-meter is set to anything higher than ‘medium’, you should find another page to read, right about now.  You have been warned.

So…cashier is approached by supervisor, business-related question is asked about last known sighting of another employee, supervisor gets answer & continues on merry way, making next plans as needed.  Customer starts huffing about the fact that the large item (15-20 pounds), successfully moved from it’s shelf to the cart (by customer), from the cart to the conveyor belt (by customer), and across the scanner (by clerk), was not then moved by the supervisor back to the cart.  Moving the item wasn’t the supervisor’s task, it was (quite frankly) the customer’s task, since the very capable customer had chosen to come through the Express Lane (small orders, semi-self-service).  Customer then insists that the reason the supervisor didn’t move the item to the cart was because of the customer’s demographic.  Of course, it couldn’t be because the supervisor was busy with the logistics of keeping a store’s checkout zone running smoothly.  Eich!

Driving too fast for the posted speed limit and/or road conditions?  The police pulled you over because of profiling, of course – it couldn’t be as simple as you’re breaking a reasonable law and they’re doing their jobs.

An authority suggests that you and/or your children stop playing inside the building, interrupting traffic flow, presenting a potential trip hazard to other humans in the realm, perhaps even risking your/their own safety…  How dare the authority give any corrective!  Obviously it’s because of your heritage, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the protocols of reasonable indoor conduct.  Puh-leeze!

I’ve long been tiring of the petty whining of people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own decisions and behaviors.  It’s easier for them to conclude that they have no say in the matter and the world is simply picking on them because they are members of a recognizeable, sortable group of humans.  Persecution happens, all over the world, for a variety of reasons, most equally inexcusable.  But c’mon, people, not every little inconvenience is worthy to be called persecution.  Sometimes it’s just an appropriate response to inappropriate behavior.

Once upon a time, parents taught children personal responsibility, actions & reactions in the physical and social worlds, and basic manners such as keeping voices and limbs under polite control in the company of others, and treating people and objects with a reasonable level of respect.  For several generations now, such teachings have fallen by the wayside, and we now have an entitlement society where the inmates are running the asylum.  Parents are now reprimanded for trying to train these little creatures not to be so self-absorbed….  so they grow up self absorbed and blame everyone else for not bowing down and serving their little highnesses.  They turn into miserable customers who can’t see the reality of the situation and walk out of a business highly insulted because they were being treated equal to everyone else.

Rant mode off.  Please reset your offend-o-meters and read at will.