When talking about prejudices and bigotry, people will often speak of them as if they are the same. They belong to the same genus, but a different species (at least in my opinion). I had an interesting experience at the doctors’ office yesterday, while at one of the Emory’s clinics. I made a statement about my anxious concern over Bin Laden’s being targeted and killed by government’s forces that were from the United States. When I started to make this statement, I made a Freudian slip, for this is what I said: “I am worried over Obama being killed”. The doctor and friend I was with of course laughed at my slip and I guess I became very red if not purple from embarrassment. This experience showed me two things about myself: The first one was that even though I thought it nonsense (at least on a conscious level) that people actually thought that Obama was Muslim; yet I obviously absorbed it and out it came in a verbal slip. Perhaps it shows me my real prejudices that I have over people from other races. I have no doubt that I have them. For they are irrational; yet they are part of me, just like other unreasonable aspects of my inner life.
Prejudices, if they are present, will manifest under pressure and if one is not aware of them they can perhaps overwhelm the ego and be acted out. At times when I am driving, women will do something ‘stupid’ on the road. So if it affects me I may exclaim, “Those women drivers” (or something even more colorful by far). I know that women are in fact good drivers, just like men, and some again, just like men should not be allowed on the road. Yet in the heat of the moment this particular prejudice came forward and I spoke it out. I may get mad at a man who does something that I perceive to be stupid, but I can’t very well complain about male drivers because then I will have to make a judgment against myself. Unless of course it is someone from a different country or race, then I may feel free to spout prejudicial nonsense. I am not proud of this aspect of my personality, yet I am glad that I am aware that it is there and also that I know how irrational and unjust such thoughts are towards those who are different.
Bigotry, at least in my opinion is different. Bigots, actually believe that their pre-judgments about others (be it religious, racial or political) are true and feel free to act out on them, if the situation arises. They can be dangerous and I try to stay away from such folks if I can. Perhaps I fear risk contamination, knowing of my own deep irrational psyche and wish not to be led down that ever more narrow and frightening path.
I remember one day, I saw a women and her small son stranded near a traffic light on Hwy 212, near where I live. She was from a different race and I was hesitant to stop because of how I look. I have a very long beard and hair and some people have certain prejudices towards those who have such a look; so I was worried that I might cause her unease. However it was going to rain, so I stopped and put down my window and asked if she would like a ride. She said nothing, but opened up the back door for her small son, buckled him in and got in the front seat. She told me where she lived, but that was all. The trip was a little uncomfortable for me, for she would not look at me, or talk. When we got to her house, she got out and walked away without looking at me. I felt sad as I left, for even she was uncomfortable with me, but perhaps took the ride for the sake of her son; so perhaps I did not do the right thing in asking her for a ride.
Some prejudices come from simple absorption of the cultural stereotypes of the times we live in. Others unfortunately are taught from generation to generation. Many young people today are free from the stereotypes that I was taught (not from my parents) or fed when young. Not racists, or against other religions necessarily, but unstated assumptions that I picked up and too young to understand the irrationality of it all. Lucky for me my parents were kind loving folks and taught us to respect others no matter their race or background.
I struggle to be rational and objective, but I doubt that I ever truly reach that to any real degree. I suppose it is my faith (yes, I can’t keep God, or religion, out of anything; can I?), that propels me to becoming progressively free of this kind of inner tyranny. Perhaps we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves because it is so difficult and has to be an endeavor that is truly mindful and not just a cliché. To love those who love us, is good and natural. They are within our own group. These groups can be small or large, like minded folk, families etc. To love those I fear, or pre-judge, is something different all together and I feel that only a heart expanded by self knowledge and healing can accomplish that. I know what it is like to be pre-judged, I hate it, so hopefully I can learn from that not to subject someone else to this kind of suffering. We all want to be seen, not looked through or stepped over.
The amazing thing is how many people truly seek to overcome these inner voices of fear and separation. For love is what opens doors. Or if some doors stay shut. Well love, compassion and empathy can allow for further healing if the situation allows. The world has had thousands of years living out the program of the ‘Will to power’. It has not worked and will never work. Perhaps one day, when we as a species are backed into a tight enough corner, then, we will seek to find another way to relate to one another. Until then, even though I don’t want to be, I am still part of the problem. For I do have inner prejudices that I know are irrational and false, yet they still wake up and express themselves, if only inwardly hidden from sight. All I can do is see them for what they are; falsehoods and to not fear or repress them. For that would compound the problem.
Those around us
Those around us in the swirling crowds,
have burdens to carry,
fears and anxious concerns to face,
for we have so much in common.
Other selves made in God’s image,
hearts that beat,
blood that runs hot,
all on a path.
so be gentle if you can,
then say nothing,
or do nothing,
to further add suffering
for the world is weary of hate,
and anger causes us to grow old
when there is no closure
or safe expression.