Prejudice

Prejudice

This was a post I made in response to a post on facebook.

OK, I’ll chime in my two cents here. I am white. I was raised by parents and family members that taught me that blacks were somehow “different” and inferior, but in a non-specific way. Blacks had rights and such, but they were expected to stay in their own areas. I remember wondering why the freeways in San Bernardino all had the offramps and onramps on the left instead of the right … I was told the left was the “white side of town” and the right was the “black side”. You won’t find that in any history book, but it seemed to be common knowledge at the time.

They started desegregation when I was was in junior high school. I remember being on the bus and the very first ever black kid that I saw not only got on the bus, but he sat next to me. I was terrified. Oh my lord, what was he going to do to me? Kill me? Beat me up?

Instead, over the next two years, he and I became best friends.

My parents and family were much more vocal about Hispanics and Mexicans. “Wetbacks” was a term my father used often and with much venom and spite.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I met Hispanics. I looked and looked, trying to figure out what the heck my father was talking about… what was wrong with them? Finally, after much thought, I concluded I actually liked the Hispanic culture, their morals and their history.

You can imagine how my family reacted when I married a native Guatemalan lady. My parents were not happy at all. They never actually said anything, but they could sure communicate a lot without actually saying anything.

And Mormons, oh my Lord, I was taught these people ate babies (literally) and practiced bizarre rituals and were going directly to hell, and trying to bring as many people as they could with them.

When I wrote the family history I had to make a visit to the Mormon temple in Santa Monica. I was absolutely terrified. Literally, I expected to find a people who were going to drag me to the pits of hell itself.

The Mormon people I met were incredibly nice, wonderful people. Yes, their beliefs are very different form mine, but I was learning different does not mean bad. Today, one of my absolute best friends in the entire world is Mormon. (She’s also Gothic and a belly dancer, go figure.)

My grandfather was held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II for four years. He had a hatred of Japanese (and all Orientals) that was blinding. I guess if I had been tortured for years I might have a bit of difficulty separating the good from the bad as well…

And, of course, homosexuality is a topic that only came up a few times… along with the words “Hell” and “damnation”. Yet today some of the very very best people I know are not only homosexual, but they are married to each other, happy, and contributing to society.

So what am I trying to say here?

I’ve learned over and over that what matters is the person, the individual. I’ve met good white people and evil white people. I’ve seen bad done by blacks, by whites, by Indians (American and otherwise), by Mexicans and by all religions and cultures.

But I judge a man and a woman by his/her actions and words and they way they live. Mardhavi Sakuntala is one of the most incredible beings I know, yet culturally, racially, religiously and by just about any other measurement she is as different from me as anyone could be. Yet she is one of my best friends.

Everyone looks at the past through the mirror of their experiences, their culture, their upbringing and their beliefs. That is all baggage and it artificially warps us to think individuals are groups. A white person is WHITE. A black person is BLACK. A Mormon is MORMON. All with the negative emotions and visuals that come with the labels.

It’s far better to look at people as individuals and judge them individually. At least that’s the way I operate these days, now that I’m a bit older and a bit wiser.

Am I proud of being an American? You bet. It’s a country with a lot of good. Of course it has a bloody history, and of course it’s not ALL good. But America does a lot of good, and with patience and the hard work of thoughtful activists of all peoples, America, and all countries, can be changed to be more good than bad.

Am I going to defend white history? Nope. That’s futile. A black person might view American history through the oppression of the slave traders and the KKK. An American Indian will view it through the slaughter of millions and the destruction (obliteration) of an entire culture. And so on.

What I do is try to see all of the viewpoints, and see what good can come of the mixture of all.

There is good in most of us… and that’s were I choose to focus my energy.

I guess that was more than two cents, but I hope it makes some sense.

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I learned a lot from my grandfather, although it was not a lesson he would have enjoyed passing along. I spent many long hours staring at him, trying to figure out why he was so full of hate for Asian people. As I listened to him talk and learned, I understood that I never would really understand, at least I hope I don’t, what it is like to have walked in the Bataan death march, to have survived four years in a Japanese POW camp, and to have seen and experienced what he saw and experienced. How could I possibly understand?

But by listening I came to an understanding that I could at least accept his reality, listen to his voice and hear what he had to say.

The same was true when I talked with a friend from Croatia. Now here was a fellow who had been through a lot … he survived the Serbian genocides and was an active part of the Croatian freedom movement. He had gone through horrors, seen people butchered, raped and tortured. I could never truly understand what he went through, but I could listen, hear his words, and accept his viewpoint.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to spend a few days on a Navajo Indian reservation. It was utterly fascinating to spend time with these people. I could see they were proud of their past and I could understand their anger at what happened to them. I remember sitting on a wall overlooking a five hundred foot high cliff, just observing the Indian people as they sold jewelry by the side fo the road. A vast gulf separated us, rivers of blood and hate, yet there I was, absorbing their culture and thoughts by observation.

And there are my Marine friends, who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. These dozen men and women deserve respect for they honestly believe with their hearts they are fighting for freedom and against terrorism and tyranny. They have been through a lot, more than I can imagine, and what I can do is listen, understand their viewpoint, and empathize with their feelings and thoughts.

It’s about listening without judging. It’s about trying to visualize what the other person is saying and feeling, putting myself in their shoes, so to speak. How would I feel if I was him or her? It’s about granting others the right to have a different viewpoint then mine.

I think that’s one of the most basic rights we have: the right to have our own viewpoint.

What I try very hard to do is grant to others the right, the absolute right, to their viewpoint to the world.

And that, my friends, makes it possible to get a glimmering of understanding of what is going on and why people think and act the way that they do.

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