Friday, August 16, 2013

Assessing Prejudices

Last month, on the last full day of our annual family rendezvous at a lakeside cabin in the Pacific Northwest, I took my brother-in-law a mile or so up a peninsula where he borrowed a jet ski to give my grandsons and their cousins one last treat.

On my short trip back to the cabin, I heard a comment on the radio that kept turning over and over in my mind as Mugs, my English Bulldog, and I made our return cross-country in the Jeep to our home in Durham, North Carolina.

“…if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”  - President Barack Obama

I was moved by the eloquence of this comment.  As an exercise in introspection, I took stock during the trip of all of the ways I may stereotype people.  Even at the age of five, I was adamantly anti-racist, but as I drove I wondered in what ways I may still be stereotyping others.

The first group that came to mind is grossly obese people.  I also snap-judge slow drivers and those who seem to deliberately walk very slowly when they cross streets.  I snap-judge gang members, both those predatory to poor neighborhoods but also those who are fringe factions of political parties.

I prejudge people who cluelessly or deliberately let their dogs urinate or defecate along other people’s yards or in parks.  I prejudge idiots who text when they drive.  Too often, I prejudge people who seem to talk but never listen as well as people who listen but never talk.

I’m not racist but that doesn’t mean I don’t prejudge in other ways or that I might be prejudiced at some level.  It has been reported that earlier this week, at the Teen Choice Awards, actor Ashton Kutcher, as part of his remarks noted that “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than.”

I am probably prejudiced toward those who do feel they are above doing some jobs.  I am also impatient with people who demean people who work in restaurants -particularly fast food places – as they are typically people who couldn’t do those jobs themselves, regardless of education level.

Being from Idaho, I probably have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to people from Utah, because I think they often seem to look down on Idaho.  Raised on a ranch, I am a bit prejudiced about potato farmers.  I am also prejudiced when it comes to blight such as roadside billboards.

I may not be racist but I know from this exercise that I also prejudge people who are or appear to be racist regardless of color, nationality and religion.  Prejudices of any kind eat away our judgment.

My adopted state of North Carolina has more than its share of hate groups.  Five are based in Raleigh where the General Assembly meets.  Some who belong may be members there.  One is even based in my hometown of Durham.  Some are white supremacists, some are black separatists.

They should not be our only concern.   Maybe the best antidote to hate and prejudice begins first with introspection.

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