Archives for the month of: March, 2016

 

Trying to make sense of the hatred in the world, all parts of the world, I have to take some responsibility and look inside myself to see my own prejudices and figure out where they come from. I don’t consider myself prejudiced, but I am. I’m prejudiced now in different ways than I was when I was a a child, a teenager, a student, a wife and mother, an adult.

As a child of the 1940s and 50s, I don’t remember hearing anyone in my family say anything hateful about people of another race. We learned the song, “Jesus love the little children,” with it message of loving all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white. That is ingrained in me too. Of course, we didn’t see many people of other races or cultures here in Oklahoma. The only African American people I knew were called Negroes and they worked for us at home or in clubs or other places. We loved them, my parents valued their help and worked with them, and I only knew they didn’t have as much as we did and lived across town in poor areas. I wasn’t exposed to many religions other than protestants and a few Catholics until I was in junior high. I wasn’t protected – it’s just the way it was.

My parents grew up in the depression. My father was from Kentucky originally and his father’s family had owned slaves in earlier times. I don’t say that with pride, but it’s a fact that I have to acknowledge, cringing as I write the words. From what I can tell, and I hope I’m not making this up, my family were kind people in spite of this. My father’s mother’s family and my mother’s family were farmers and lived a very rough life. They may have been tough or beaten down, but I don’t think there were too many mean people in there. Maybe a mean drunk or two.

Another song that comes to mind is from “South Pacific,” a beautiful play and film about prejudice that I saw as a young girl. I also read Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” upon which it was based. The song is “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I’m lucky my family wasn’t crawling with hatred that they passed on to me.

Growing up, I was a pretty quiet little girl, reading a lot and hearing many things. I was also the kind of girl who would never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose. If my parents taught me that, I thank them. To this day, at 70, there is nothing that hurts me more than to think I have hurt someone else by something I said or did.

There’s no way I can pretend that I don’t know all the racial and ethnic stereotypes out there. I’ve heard all the jokes and laughed at them stupidly, although never in the presence of someone who would be hurt by them. Like that isn’t just as bad, playing to the prejudices of others. I cannot honestly say that I don’t have those horrible stereotypes or feelings ingrained enough in me and that they don’t come to the surface when I meet someone new or see someone on the street. They range from being uncomfortable with the handicapped to thinking through all the implications of someone’s color or nationality to dumb blondes and stupid rednecks. I’m pretty universally prejudiced, I guess.

I hate that I’m writing this, hate that I’m putting this all out there, but it’s true. Maybe I’m justifying it, but I have to give myself a little credit, too. My parents traveled with us and introduced us to many types of people. There were always lots of magazines around and I read them all, locking away all kinds of information that challenged the other things I’ve read. My mind is a mishmash of the bad and good things about people.

I’ve learned that the best way to overcome the things you fear is to meet them head on. This includes meeting people, putting a face with the prejudice that lets you put it all in perspective. I’m not perfect, but I can honestly say that I have friends from almost all races, if I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to them. I have friends of every religion and belief, whether I agree with it or not. And, yes, some of them fit the stupid stereotype and remind me of why it exists in the first place. The good thing is that I have friends that I can talk to about these things. I can only imagine what their presupposed image of me was and it probably was as stupid as mine was of them.

Several years ago, my job entailed teaching a series of programs to 2nd and 3rd graders on diversity. The classes were developed by Mr. Rogers’ group and called “Different and the Same.” The different sessions focused on stereotypes, bullying, hate crimes, celebrating your heritage, and general kindness towards others. The classes ranged from all white students to a diversity of white, Hispanic, Native American, African American and all blends. They were vocal about the things they had been taught at home, but they soaked up the lessons and understood everything we were trying make them think about. This may have been the most important work I did in my life and certainly something I’m very proud of.

The answer to my self analysis is that we have to keep working on these issues throughout our lives. We can’t give in to our fears, rational or irrational, about other people. We have to keep reaching out, meeting people, learning, and making the effort to see the world through the eyes of others. We have to understand that most of us want the same thing for our children and those we love, a safe home, education, love. We’re not really that different under the skin, are we?

I don’t know how we teach compassion and empathy. I don’t know how we teach people to love. All I know is that we have to keep trying. If not, what are we?

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I find myself paralyzed these days as I watch the horror of the current elections with both amazement and genuine terror. When you get to my age, you hope you’ve seen everything stupid that can happen and then this…

Trying to figure it all out, I think back to the elections of my younger days when we didn’t have 24/7 news coverage, the internet or social media. We got a little news from television, more from newspapers and magazines. I’m not advocating we go back, because we can’t, but it has definitely made an impact on how we live through the news ad nauseum as it unfolds minute by minute.

To be fair, and because I tend to want to see all sides of an issue, I try to watch and read as much as I can from every viewpoint. I had a conversation with a university student who was turning 21 and voting for the first time in a national election. His genuine confusion was interesting as he tried to make sense of anything, even with so much information all around him. The problem is that we’re pounded with it, over and over.

When I’ve worked on projects where I need to get a message to an audience, I’ve learned that you need to send it in as many ways as possible since most of us get so much information every day that we may miss it or put it aside. Some of my friends rarely read an email and have no idea how to tweet or text. Snail mail may work best with them. Maybe. Most of us need it all to make something stand out. Repetitive jabbing at the consciousness. Obviously, politicians embrace this technique to the extreme. No publicity is bad publicity, as they say.

So, the end result of all of this constant repetition of the confusing messages is a sense of alarm, a gnawing fear that this year’s elections are leading us to a place most of us don’t want to go. Every day is some new trigger from our state legislatures, the election rallies and debates, local craziness. Always something.

It doesn’t help that I’ve just finished two books that revolve around Germany in the 1930s, “In the Garden of Beasts,” by Erik Larson and “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Read them both. You’ll learn from the first one and feel better about being human from the second. My brain is full of images of Hitler’s speeches inciting the crowds to follow him blindly into the evil chaos that was to come. Do we never learn from history?

I understand being fed up with the powers that be. When did we become a country that only worked for our political parties and not for the people? What is this stalemate that has been created in state and national legislatures where you can’t vote for your conscience or for what you know, only for what your party leaders tell you to vote for – if you want to be reelected. And who doesn’t want to be reelected, especially to a national office where you get perks for life even if you’re an idiot and only serve one term. Wow!

In the past months, I’ve had nightmares, real nightmares, about Donald Trump. That’s the result of the constant pummeling at my brain that is coming out in my sleep. I need my sleep.

I have no solution for the madness that is going on around us other than to be careful with your votes. I’m not even sure I want you all to vote if you’re going to continue voting the way you have been. “The people speak” isn’t as reassuring as it used to be.

Last year, one of my favorite movies was Disney’s “Cinderella” with its message: Have Courage and Be Kind. My new mantra.

Right now, I’m going to look away from all the nuttiness and say goodbye to Winter with it’s slanted light and lovely images through the bare skeletons of trees…DSC_0002

…and say hello to Spring with its burst of Hope we need today and every day. Maybe the Spring rains will wash away some of the nastiness that is creeping into our souls.DSC_0003