Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are People Inherently Prejudiced?

Katdish asked this question on her blog on July 19, 2008. If you click on the title of this post, you will be taken to her blog posting which inspired this subject. I wanted to leave a comment, but I needed to think. She has posted other stuff since then, and I am still thinking...

How many times have I heard the phrase "I'm not prejudiced, but..." ? I hate that phrase, because usually what follows it is something that reveals prejudice. Have I ever found myself ready to say that phrase? Unfortunately, yes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to stop myself ahead of time, so that I can work on these thoughts and reflect where they come from, and if they are prejudiced. I say fortunate, because my own prejudgements are not things I am proud of, and don't want to reveal them to anyone. It's like dirty underwear. I suspect everyone has some, but I don't want to wave mine around in public. As a matter of fact, I don't like waving them around in private either. I want to deal with it by cleaning it up. Anyways, that is a gross analogy, although I think quite appropriate.

Are these prejudices things we are born with? I think that is a yes and no answer. Like original sin, I think we are born with the sense that our own ways of doing things are the best. I know lots of Poles and Hungarians that can quote sayings from "the old country" in a way to make you think they believe that "the old country" is wisdom headquarters. I think that may be true for all or at least most nationalities, and as a country made up of many peoples, we have a lot of that going on.

Then there is direct racism. I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, since I consider this the worst of my dirty undies, my parents sort of talked out of both sides of their mouths about race. They would sit me down, and say the perfect "There is good and bad in all races and nationalities. No one ethnicity is better than the other. All races are equally good and equally sinful", but then do things like remind everyone to make sure the car doors were locked if we were stopped near a bus stop where a black man was waiting. Or I would be warned to hold on to my purse if we saw a black man in the store. Yes, I am ashamed to be admitting this. I wish this weren't true, but if I'm going to answer this on my blog, I am going to answer honestly.

Obviously these prejudices weren't inherent is the sense that I was born with them. I was taught them. By parents who learned and accepted it from someone or somewhere else without examining them. I am no better than them. I reflected on this and examined these actions because...I have black friends. I know, that is a phrase a lot like "I am not prejudiced, but...". I hear this a lot when someone says something racist. I try not to use that phrase for the same reason. But there is no other way to tell you why I started reflecting on things that became so reflexive. One day it dawned on me that there are people who lock their doors and clutch their purses when they see my friends, and I became deeply ashamed, These friends are better Christians than I, and yet if I didn't know them personally, I would lock or clutch.

I would be proud if I could say I don't even recognize racial differences while driving or walking in a store. I'd be a liar if I did. I don't clutch my purse anymore, I just look up and smile. I hope the recipient of the smile isn't thinking "this white woman is only noticing me because I am black". I hope the recipient thinks I am friendly. I hope anyone who meets me thinks I am friendly. I mainly hope that I am overcoming the sinful prejudices within me. I know God cleanses me of all sin. But my sin hurts others. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to be a bad person. I want to be a proper sister to all of God's children.

Katdish also asked about whether we are more moved by seeing sick or hungry children of our own race. I don't think so. But then, my parents never taught me to prefer children of my own race. That was why they were giving me the "everyone is equal" lecture. My school was being intergrated, and they were encouraging me to be kind and friendly to the new kids. They wanted me to welcome them, and play with them, and behave in the way a good Christian child should. They got it half right. They tried. They weren't perfect. Neither am I. Only Jesus Christ is perfect. I lean on Him and depend on His grace. I know He forgives all sins repented, even those against Himself. Afterall, Jesus was not caucasian. Whatever race He is, He is my Saviour.

By the way, if you are reading this, Katdish, I hope you still like me, now that I have shown the dank, stinky parts of my soul.

God be with you!


katdish said...


Incredible post. I appreciate your honesty. I have experienced all of the same feelings you have. I would venture a guess that most people have - regardless of their race or nationality. People distrust what they do not know. It's funny; I've been treated differently because I'm half Japanese, but my Japanese mother comes from a long line of purebloods who consider anyone outside their race below them. As a matter of fact, when my mother told her family she was marrying an American, she was disowned. She never spoke to any of her family again. (She's 74 - I'm pretty sure she has outlived most of them.) White people definately don't hold a monopoly on prejudice. Sometimes our comfort zones come at a high price.

BTW - I am incredibly humbled that you would dedicate an entire post to my question. Thank you.

Kris said...

Great post... i think kat got us all tro stop and think.