The word prejudice refers to prejudgment. Prejudgment can be taught or learned but is not engrained in our DNA when we are born. Parents can teach prejudice, the church can teach prejudice, the school can teach prejudice, friends can teach prejudice and even culture can teach prejudice. Prejudgments toward people because of gender, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, language, nationality or other personal characteristics affects our perceptions of those around us. Prejudice can be a negative influence or predispose an irrational experience.
Growing up in the 50’s, there was plenty of prejudice around. Our society was under the fear of nuclear war with the Commies, the Jim Crow south treated blacks as if they were third world aliens, women were second class citizens, anyone who did not speak English was suspicious, and homosexuality was never spoken of except in church. For that matter, sexuality was never spoken of except in the underground. Families accepted all this prejudgment as the status quo.
Through the next couple of decades many of these prejudgments were protested as irrational and laws made to change the way our country reacted. Of course laws can be made but human psyche takes time to change.
I remember seeing the one-room schools and shanty shacks on the side of the road when traveling in the rural south. I remember seeing chain gangs overviewed by guards with shotguns like slaves. All these were passing photo shoots back to my white bread existence. I had to read and watch movies to experience what was happening to those who lived on the other side of Broad Street.
I don’t remember my parents or any of their friends showing overt bigotry but I’m sure it was there. My schoolmates didn’t show any bigotry but our schools were still segregated. We played games in old civil war embankments. We had the confederate battle flag on our walls. We saw and talked to people who fought in the war or were children or wives of those who fought for the lost cause and owned slaves.
As our schools were integrated we looked at each other in wonder but did not intermingle. The little contact our two cultures had were polite and conjugal but brief. There was no personal fear or aggression but just little understanding of people who grew up on the other side of the city.
College brought a mingling of different ethnic backgrounds and perhaps our age began to understand and accept the changes. At the same time, our status quo mentality was changing to create yet another culture that caused prejudice against us for our different look, even by our parents.
So why do I mention this? Obliviously we all have our prejudices whether we admit it to ourselves or not.
The other day I saw an interracial couple and it made me uncomfortable. They could have been just good friends or married partners but it reminded me of my prejudice.
Unfortunately I knew too many girls who were damaged by their first interracial relationships so maybe that is why I was uncomfortable. Maybe it was my conservative dating techniques that were not equal to the assertive methods that I did not understand.
Whatever the reason or cause, I know it is part of who I am. I’m not a bigot or a racist but I accept that something’s will make me uncomfortable and I must live with it. I’ve always thought that it takes a generation to change a prejudice.
Wish the couple well and like so many changes that have come through my lifetime I will adapt but will carry my known and unknown prejudices to the grave.