Archives for posts with tag: prejudice

For 74 1/2 years, I’ve been accumulating impressions, stereotypes, prejudices and images in my mind, whether I know or like it or not. I’m a white woman who grew up in Oklahoma with a certain amount of privilege, education, and experience which I have taken into the world as I’ve traveled, worked and lived. In 2020, I’m trying to analyze what my feelings are, where they came from and who I’ve influenced along the way.

We were taught that first impressions mean a lot. That’s where I’ll begin to check on myself. I’m figuring out what I see when I “size ’em up” as I meet people in so many situations.

When we see someone, whether walking down the street or being introduced to them, we are flooded with so many things to take in. As a woman, I think I check a person’s sex first. This is probably defensive. If it’s a man, how big or strong does he look, how old is he, how is he dressed, what is the expression on his face? It’s hard to break it down because we see so much in an instant. I’ve been experimenting with this for the last few days. There’s so much to assess. I’m trying to see how prejudiced I am.

Of course, I see skin color, race. It would be crazy to think any of us don’t notice something that is so identifying. What I’ve found is that I have so many prejudices and assumptions about people that it’s hard to decide what I see first.

The song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” from the musical South Pacific, reminds us:

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

Maybe our parents didn’t specifically teach us, maybe we just observed the way they treated people. The people of color in my life as a child mostly worked for us, but I only respected and loved them. I would have been in trouble if I didn’t mind them. The funny things I remember were hearing that my grandfather said to never trust a red-headed bookkeeper and having my grandmother tell me not to let communist professors influence me in college. Those are amusing, to say the least. Who knows where those ideas came from.

The main thing I am learning is that my parents didn’t dehumanize anyone to us. We traveled to other countries and met people of other cultures and races and learned from them. They passed down to me that people are interesting and you can learn so much meeting others.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s and watched the world change. I’m stunned now to have friends who grew up in other circumstances in the same city and were subjected to prejudices and abuse of all kinds because they were Jewish, Native American, Black, or crippled. One friend told me she was bullied because she had lived in South America and spoke fluent Spanish. She was called names and was so traumatized that she quit using her Spanish. She is quite white, by the way. And, my friends who have been treated differently because they are female is a whole other discussion. I’m in that group myself but I digress.

Being white in Oklahoma is almost an anomaly. At one time, I worked for the American Red Cross, where I took a lot of diversity training. The Red Cross has a large number of volunteers who work with staff to assist people in disasters and they emphasize that you cannot discriminate when people are in crisis after a fire or tornado or other tragedy. We spent a lot of time learning how to approach people from other cultures. I did a lot of the programs in rural areas and schools for all ages. We were supposed to report the demographics of who we spoke to after each program. My reaction was that I couldn’t even tell the boys from the girls when I was speaking to the classes. Especially in Oklahoma’s rural areas, there are so many children from mixed families – Native American/Hispanic, Black/Hispanic, White/Black, etc. So many combinations. It’s amazing that we are considered to be such a “Red” state since we are a true melting pot.

I’m finding that I have fewer prejudices towards the melting pot I find myself in than I do to the actual people I should feel most comfortable with. I’m back to the things I notice and the prejudices I have. I’m old enough to take my initial impressions with a grain of salt. Tattoos are a great example of something that used to signal one thing to me and now are just another feature of someone to learn more about. Fluorescent hair and messy clothing (which may actually be very expensive) are things that aren’t what they seem. Not all blondes are dumb and not all teen agers are on drugs and so on. We have so many assumptions we make at first glance. Today’s political strife is not making it easier. We judge people quickly by stances they take online and it’s a strange world we are in where we are making judgments on people we have known forever.

In the late 60s or early 70s, t-shirts became a fashion statement. I’m old enough to remember making the stupid statement that I wasn’t going to wear men’s underwear. Now my wardrobe has an inordinate number of t-shirts covered in logos from places I’ve traveled, groups I belong to, or statements I want to make. Here I am after the first Women’s March of the current times on January 21, 2017. IMG_0763Sorry for the mirror image, but you get the drift and you would correctly assume from this that I was marching for women’s rights, the climate, and civil rights – all causes I’ve been working for most of my life. I wasn’t a marcher most of my years, but I’ve worked to better my community for all who live here in these areas and others.

This week, I saw a woman wearing this t-shirt. IMG_4761I immediately made assumptions about her, based on my own prejudices. I saw someone who was proudly proclaiming that she was a Republican and would only vote Republican and there is no point trying to talk to her about anything. She is right (and probably never wrong) and proud of it. I watched her play with her child and thought how much that t-shirt had changed how I was reacting to her. All my own prejudices were on my nerve endings, an emotional and visceral reaction, which is pretty amazing since I spent most of my voting life as a Republican.

It would be wonderful to think that my years of experience have taught me something, taught me to not put people in little boxes of my own assumptions, but I’m not even close to that level of perfection, no matter how hard I try. The only thing I can conclude from my study of myself is that I don’t think I dehumanize people, whether I like them or not. They are all still human beings to me and I know they have challenges in their lives that I can’t see at first glance or qualities that I should spend time discovering. I know I need to listen to more people and learn from other’s experiences. Working on being sympathetic, empathetic, and understanding are at the top of my list of things I want to improve in myself. I try to practice the Golden Rule in all things that I do.

And, yet, when I see or meet people and “size ’em up,” there are my lifetime of assumptions oozing out of my brain. In these troubling and confusing times, it’s a good idea to step aside and look in the mirror. We can all do better – and should.


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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