I’ve been exposed to prejudice in many forms for my entire life, even though I am not a “person of color”. When I was a child, I was literally beaten up every single day on the way to school by bullies for my lunch money, and I was ruthlessly teased by other children because I was smart, loved school and liked to study. This, combined with what happened at home, combined to cause me to introvert deep inside myself. I got to the point where I would not talk with anyone unless it was a requirement. Communication was dangerous, even life threatening.
My first exposure to a black man was in Junior high school. It was one year before that school started it’s great desegregation project. The school was in an uproar, being literally all white, about the fact that next year one third of the school would be black. Adults talked about desegregation as if the end of the world was coming.
I met my soon-to-be friend on the school bus. I was terrified. I had to sit next to him as that was the only space on the bus. The things I’d heard from my white “friends” and others about black people made me fear for my life. Since I was young and had nothing to base any beliefs on expect what my parents and others told me, I was afraid. I can honestly say at that moment, for a very brief time, I expected to die. It was that bad.
He turned out to be just as afraid of me, at first, as I was of him. But we soon were best friends. We spent the rest of that school year talking, playing and just being good friends. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my young life. The white students shunned me even more, but I didn’t care because I had found a friend.
When I was much older I feel hopelessly in love and married a woman who was born in Guatemala (she was raised in New Orleans). She had a very thick accent (an interesting mix of Southern and Guatemalan), and in my eyes she was gorgeous beyond belief. (I find Latino and Hispanic ladies to be extraordinarily beautiful). I was so in love that I married her within weeks after meeting her, and we remained married for 12 years until she passed away.
My parents and I had not talked in almost ten years by the time I married her. After we had been married for a couple of years, I brought her over to their place in Lake Arrowhead and introduced her to them. That was a fascinating moment. I really hadn’t thought much about marrying a woman of another race; it wasn’t important to me. All I knew was she was my soul mate, she was gorgeous and we were in love. But my parents, when they met her, wow, the look they gave. I’m sure many of you know that disapproving look, the one that says volumes without a word having been uttered.
She’s long gone from this world, but the emotional pain of that meeting with my parents remains. To be on the receiving end of such disapproval over marrying the woman I loved, well, it didn’t do anything positive for the relationship between my parents and I.
Being a member of a minority, non-Judeo Christian religion has exposed me even more to prejudice. I get told jokes and comments, “all in good fun” all the time, and they are not fun. I hear conversations where my religion is belittled and attacked day in and day out. I see Facebook and internet posts by people I know, people who claim to be friends, putting down people of my faith on more occasions than I care to think about. And, as Mardhavi Sakuntala, one my dearest friends, said about herself, it gets tiring to try and laugh and pretend it’s just a joke, or to ignore the comments and pretend it didn’t hurt and wasn’t intended to cut flesh.
I’ve heard “oh, you’re one of THEM” said with incredible distaste. I’ve lost friends over my faith, even though I do not, by any means, push my religion on others, nor do I belittle other’s religions. I don’t even discuss my beliefs all that much, and certainly not on the internet, because to me my religion is a personal thing.
And, oh my Lord, now that I have tattoos, well, the comments I hear about myself. Based upon the comments, I am a degenerate being, beyond salvation and hope. Just because of a few pictures inked into my skin. “I can’t understand why ANYONE would do THAT”, “what possessed you to…”, “I would never…”, “trying to prove …”, and my favorite, “you’ll so regret that when you get old”, and so on are among the comments I receive on a regular basis.
I believe we all need to step back and understand we can have differences and yet still communicate, be friends and be happy. I don’t understand why my religion is the subject of attacks by others; I don’t have a clue as to why the color of a person’s skin matters; I have no understanding why a woman shouldn’t make as much or more money as a man; I do not have any concept of why homosexuals are not allowed to marry. It all baffles me. Why are these differences so important as to create such vile hatred and disrespect?