Prejudice and Me

Extreme honesty alert!

Poor bear. What did the bear do to deserve this?

In any case, things I was reading today about other people’s biases gave me pause to think about my own. As hard as I’ve worked to overcome different kinds of prejudice, some seem almost hard wired. I have no scientific basis to go on, but my gut feeling is that these are the ones I learned when I was very young, before my ability to make judgments like that on my own kicked in.

Yep, I’m a white person. I was raised in a Southern US white culture. Some of the prejudices of that group rub off. I’ve spent many years dwelling on this, and it doesn’t make me happy. I know that having slave ancestors as well as slave owning ancestors is something to think about. I know I have biases in other areas that skew my opinions. I know I can’t fix past things. But I know I can work hard to treat people fairly today.

Where Prejudice Comes From (for me)

I sure know where a lot of my prejudices come from, and that’s my mom, whom I loved dearly, but I could tell from an early age had some extra doozies of flaws. One was her wide range of racial and ethnic stereotypes. She had a bad World War II experience (lost a fiance) and was pissed off at Japanese people and Germans (they spit when they talk) her whole life. She was also quite opposed to “white trash,” and kept telling us not to be like them. And she both loved black people personally and said awful things about them them as a group (probably from her own upbringing). All this stuff confused the heck out of me, and even though I was uncomfortable with the things she said and did, I know some of it sunk in.

Skin is just skin. Cultural differences are interesting, not scary. Yep. All images from here down from Twenty20.

Thanks to my upbringing, I was scared of black people and looked down from my barely middle-class perch at poor white people. I have a feeling many of my black and poor white future friends came about from me wanting to distance myself from my mom and not wanting to be like that. At least I stuck around to like my friends as people. But to this day, I get this tiny bit of negativity that my higher thought processes immediately slap down. Whew, no wonder racial stereotypes and prejudices are so hard to eradicate, when even someone who knows better and wants to judge people on who they are, not how they look, still deals with childhood crap.

Positive Prejudices

You don’t hear as much about this when people are talking about prejudice, but you can also be biased toward groups of people. As much as my upbringing caused me to look down at some groups, I looked up to others, who I thought were culturally better than me. Mom’s issues aside, I always had some kind of over-fondness for Japanese people that I never could explain. I just loved all the good parts of that culture for much of my early life. I’m glad I studied the language and culture long enough to realize the Japanese people and culture have their highs and lows, just like the rest of us.

Maybe my childhood goldfish pond subliminally made me like Japanese culture.

Oddly, I was never overly fond or or negatively inclined toward other Asians, Hispanic people, or North Africans. That gut feeling of negativity just isn’t there. I was interested in their cultures, but they seemed to all be like me, just from other places and with other social traditions. It’s odd, because I spent years in south Florida where white people were not often too kind to Cubans, and now I live in Texas where some groups of white folks are still pretty awful to people of Mexican descent.

Why didn’t that pass on to me? Who knows! I think my fondness for and interest in people from other places probably arose in college and grad school, As a linguistics major, I met so many people from so many places that I didn’t have time to form group prejudices, but saw them all as individuals.

And why have I always been positively biased toward gay and trans people? Is it just my early experiences as well? I only knew one gay man growing up, but my mom WAS nice about him. Nah, I think it’s the fact that I met so many sweet young gay men and kind adult lesbians when I was in my late teens that did it. I did learn that my LGBTQ friends can also be annoying. Humanity, after all.

Other Types of Prejudice

Since I’m so fascinated by world cultures, I think I’ve done as well as I can with regard to racial and cultural issues. Other things, I am having a LOT of trouble dealing with.

Thanks to my mother, I also have a huge prejudice against people who smoke tobacco (or anything else; it’s the lung damage that bothers me). I used to be so angry at her for wasting our money and using it all for her addictions and medical expenses, that even to day, when I find out someone smokes, I’m a little sad. I see them dying like my mother did, a long prolonged cancer battle. I find that as hard as I try not to, I think less of smokers for making that choice, and probably look down on them. That’s not fair of me, and I know that. I can’t know what led someone to their addiction. So, I’ll work on hating the problem, not the person with the problem (and I do a lot better with it now than I used to).

Oh my, a smoker with tattoos. Double whammy.

The other odd prejudice Mom gave me is against tattoos. Now, when I was young, only war veterans and carnies had tattoos, at least according to Mom. I had a great uncle whose tattoos the whole family whispered about. I ended up having that gut feeling that if you had a tattoo, you were “low class” (or something; I’m not really sure what the issue was supposed to be).

Today, of course, anyone you meet could have tattoos, and it’s a common way people express themselves. I am a fan of the more artistic ones and like to look at them and admire the artistry. But, still, my first reaction upon seeing that a new acquaintance has tattoos is negative. That’s embarrassing. And I do get over it (or I’d have no friends, right?). I have trained myself to like the artistry, and I guess I’m entitled to prefer un-decorated skin for myself, but wow, what an odd thing to have issues with.

I’m going to just leave it there. I have some religious and political prejudices that I’d like to work harder on, too. But I’m already reeling from what I just wrote. I think, like so many white liberal snowflakes (as I call myself), I like to think I’m not someone who stereotypes others. But, really, doesn’t everyone? At least I am AWARE that I still have work to do, and at least I genuinely care for and love people I may have an initial reaction to.

Do you have any weird prejudices like mine? Tell me!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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