Monday, September 21, 2015

The American Predilection to Prejudice ~ #MondayBlogs

I recently watched the movie "Black or White" starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer; it's a movie about a recently widowed white grandfather who is drawn into a custody dispute over his biracial granddaughter who he has raised all of her life. Overall the movie was, in my opinion, terrific. Admittedly the story does include some stereotyping: a wealthy white grandfather with a drinking problem, a crack addicted and absent black father, and a loving black grandmother who lives with her large extended family in an unsavory part of town. Personally I think those stereotypes were used to emphasize that no side is perfect or better than the other

During one of several poignant courtroom scenes where the father's family lawyer Jeremiah (played by Anthony Mackie) tries to make Elliot (played by Costner) out to be a bigot, Elliot makes a very dramatic and thought-provoking argument:

Jeremiah: Do you have a problem with racial prejudice?
Elliot: Is that what you want to make this about, Jeremiah? Really? Well then let's do it them. You've wanted to ever since Rowena first dragged you into this. So yes, we're different, you and I. You want to submit that? Submit it. We have different skin color. Is that the first thing I notice when I see a black man, the color of his skin? Yes. Submit Away. Because I can go ahead and submit that it's the first thing you see when you see a white guy. Now I don't know why that is any more than I know why when I see a good-looking woman, the first thing I notice are her breasts, because I do. But if I move on to my next thought quick enough, I'm not a pervert... I'm not a bad guy. I'm just mildly flawed. It's the same thing with race. It's not my first thought that counts, it's my second, third and fourth thought. And each and every case I'm in it comes down to the same thing, the action and the interaction with the person I'm interacting with. 
Noticing a person's physical description whether they are black or white, male or female, fat or thin, tall or short doesn't make a person a bigot. The meaning of PREJUDICE according to Google is a "preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience". Prejudice is when we allow that first look, that first impression, to make a difference in how we view an individual. We teach our children to notice the things around them, we ask our police officers to note a person's description, we hope drivers are observant about the people and places they pass. If you look with your eyes open you will see differences in our appearances. I am a short olive-toned, plumper than should be female and if you notice any of that you are simply looking AT me... BUT if you allow any of that to think that I am less or more worthy of fair treatment than any one else simply based on my appearance, then that is prejudice.

We are all raised with some preconceived notions... a white picket fence around a suburban house means a happy family... an eccentrically dressed older woman sitting on a park bench is crazy... a well dressed white man driving an expensive car is highly respected... a young black child with a torn and dirty shirt has an irresponsible single mother. We've been exposed to many of these stereotypes in our childhood homes, on TV, through single incidents. As "Elliot" said though, move on to your next thought; think of the possibilities, learn more.

As a society we've become lazy. Too many people don't want to take the time to learn about a person and about their character. Meet me, talk with me; read my resume if I am looking for a job instead of tossing it onto the rejection pile when you see the Spanish surname. Don't assume when you see the Star of David I sometimes wear that I fit every negative ethnic joke you ever heard about Jews. And if you decide I have the qualifications for the job don't pay me less than you would a man working the same position.

Yes, we have differences. Even people of the same ethnic group, gender, age range, religion have differences. And yet we are all alike, we all feel pain and joy, we all enjoy being loved, we all need sustenance, and we all need air to breathe. Even identical twins can have very different personalities, skills and desires. 

Prejudice is stopping at that first look or that first impression. Prejudice is not thinking past stereotypes. Prejudice is allowing bias to dictate how you treat someone simply because you can't or won't take the time to move on to your second, third and fourth thoughts.

Respect people for WHO they are and not for WHAT they appear to be.
Make time to learn their traditions, cultures and language.
Give meaning to the words Brotherhood and Humanity.

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