Bigotry and Prejudice

Warning: I explore bigotry and prejudice, my own, and how I feel about them. What I'm doing to stop them, and how they came about. This might be too much religion blaming for you, and if so, feel free to skip past this one. 

Everyone has them, bigotries. I know we do, we have these prejudices from the cradle, something we inherit from our parents, our grandparents, our families and friends as we grow.

I have them, I know. I try to work around them, ignore them, discard them. But unfortunately bigotries are like dogma, they just don't stay gone.

I have actually discarded the prejudices my mother instilled in me. They never sat right with me, to be frank. I'm a person who innately seeks fairness, and bigots aren't fair.

She never taught me to care what colour some one's skin was. I can honestly truly say I was raised to be colour blind. “Red and Yellow, Black and White/ they are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I never thought anyone was less than, because of their colour or the country they were born in. That never came up.

I think part of it was that my mother was rebelling against the bigotry of her own parents and grandmother. My great-grandmother is a terrible bigot. The kind that uses the “n” word and thinks that if you kiss a person of colour they will some how rub off. It's pretty embarrassing! She always kept it reigned in, though. I never heard say anything like that until I was an adult, and then to everyone's horror I said, “Omi, that's not right! You know that's not an OK thing to say,” and then I left the family gathering. I admit it, I was a prig about it. I was also so shocked I couldn't do anything except sputter out my repudiation. I wanted to say, “What the fuck is wrong with you!” but I knew that'd go over like a lead balloon.

My grandparents aren't quite that bad, but as far as I'm concerned it's still shades of wrong. They're of the mind that children born bi-racial are some how less than the sum of their parts. Nothing wrong, in their minds, with being one colour or another. But when you're both, you're some how diminished. They just about had a heart attack when President Obama was elected! It was pretty sad, if you ask me.

Over all, though, I was raised to see the person, to make sure I wasn't treating anyone differently because of the colour of their skin, and to be mindful of what we call “white privilege*”. I remember the first time I saw anyone being discriminated against based on their colour, or country of origin. I was living in Landstuhl, and my German friends said something nasty about “those damned Turks”.

“Those damned Turks are from Armenia! They're running away from people trying to kill them for being Muslims!” I ranted. I was instantly mad. I mean how could they! Those Armenians were nice people! We got into a rather heated discussion, and I realised that some people were taught to hate, or at the very least gravely dislike others, just based on where they were from.

Before that, I'd seen discrimination based on your church, or beliefs (this was all various branches of Christianity.) Seemed that the various Protestant churches disliked each other, but could get together in their detestation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, or Mormons. The churches where that was most pronounced of course were IFB churches. They think they have an inside line on God, and so all other Protestant churches are wrong, as are JW's, LDS, and of course the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches. I will be fair, some of them aren't so anti-Orthodox, they seem to think because there was a Schism, they aren't Catholic. It's impossible to explain to them, so I gave up.

I never heard a bad word about the Jews, though. No matter what Israel did, they were “God's chosen people” and to disagree with them, or think they were wrong or persecutory toward the Arabs in Gaza was tantamount to telling God he was wrong! Can't do that. A lot of Christians also believe that God will “save” the Jews, some how their looking toward the Messiah coming and waiting for him means they're accepting of the Christian Messiah-- even though the Jews do not recognise Jesus as their Messiah. It's a weird, convoluted way of claiming the Jewish God, but not actually having to obey the Law in the Jewish Bible. They just wrote their own add-ons, see? And it's all good.

It never made any sense to me, how all the Jews would be saved and go to heaven with all the “good christians”, but not anyone else. Not the American Indians, or other First Nations peoples who have their own Messianic stories, not the Hindus who also have Messianic stories, not the Muslims, even though they believe Jesus was a great teacher. Nope, only Jews and Christians. I never did get a straight answer on how that worked, either. So I just gave up asking.

I wasn't taught anything about Muslims. This was before September 11, 2001, so other than “that's the religion of the people who hate the Jews in the Middle East” – yes, I heard that, several times growing up-- I knew nothing about Islam. The anti-Islam hysteria didn't pick up until well after I had done my own digging and thought it was a mighty fine religion, if that's the one that nourished you.

I was taught to feel sorry for people who were not like me. And I was taught to fear gay people. Gay men, anyway. Lesbians weren't discussed at all. They didn't exist, I guess. My mother actually still believes that in order to become gay you have to be “recruited into the lifestyle”. Goddess, I wish I was joking, but nope. I had a good gay friend, and she actually demanded I tell her who molested him, to “turn him” that way! When I told her my ex's mother was a lesbian, in a committed relationship, my mother said, “Oh, I'm sure they're just room mates, not really together.” I tried to explain that no, they really are together, you should see them, but my mother didn't believe me.

I was taught “stranger danger” about gay men. They were like kidnappers, or something horrible! Then, I met one, and thought, “oh, he's nothing like I was taught!” My fear evaporated immediately. When my cousin came out, flamboyantly I was one of the few who embraced him completely. Sadly most of my family thinks it's a phase and he'll “get right with god” and get straight.

So, I was raised that anyone outside our church was wrong, innately wrong, and that gay men were paedophiles. Those two didn't take long to break down, to be honest. One good friend outside those boundaries and I discarded them like yesterday's kitty litter. They didn't linger on, either, like some prejudices do. I feel pretty lucky there.

Later, though, I found I had formed a new one. A new prejudice had invaded my life, my philosophy. I was horrified! Where had that come from! I was Pagan, we didn't hate anyone, didn't dislike you on sight, because we don't know you! We accepted different, revelled in it! What had I done!

I despised fundamentalists/evangelicals! Also, I disliked men from Saudi who came into my store. I didn't hate either group, but the Saudi's treated me like shit, like I was either their sex toy-in-waiting, or a complete slut for turning them down. The city I worked in has a large University; the sister schools are in Malaysia, and a program through one of the uni's in Saudi brought in a lot of Muslims, from all genders. This wasn't all bad, it was pretty cool, I thought. I also worked with an Iranian Muslim, and an African-American Muslim-- both women, both strong, independent woman. So I thought all Muslims were like they were, thinking all this “walk three steps behind” shit was propaganda. There were stirrings of anti-Islam sentiment, so I took everything I heard with a healthy grain of salt.

Then, I met a man from Saudi Arabia. He was my age, early 20's, and studying at the Uni. He came into the store, passing me on my smoke break. I watched him turn and walk back out and ask me out for lunch. I was flattered, but I had to say no, I was working until late that day, and had kids at home. He went pasty and then called me a “red headed whore!”

I didn't know what to make of that, so I fell back to my old stand by, sarcasm, “Why thank you!” I said, “It's so kind of you to insult me when we haven't even been properly introduced.” I spun on my heel and went back inside. I let security know what I did, and waited for the backlash.

I was pretty relieved when there wasn't any, though, I will say. This pattern continued over and over. Not one gent from Malaysia ever took it personally if I didn't go out with them. I had coffee/tea with several of them, lunch with one or two. But the men from Saudi** all took it personally. You would think I had taken off my clothes, did the sexiest lap dance ever and then told them I was a man! I mean, shit! The abuse we women took from them was pretty horrible. It got to where I would call security as soon as one of them showed up, and they'd be waiting just in case we needed them.

When I realise that I was judging every person from Saudi because of ten or a dozen ass holes, I felt terrible! I knew better than to do that, better than to be so atrocious, so cruel and-- in my mind-- evil. I was no better than the men calling me a whore for my hair!

By then I had worked with men and women from Egypt while I was in the service (there are many “exchange” programs in the military); I had worked with Israelis, Britons, Germans, Koreans. No one treated me so badly, and not one set off my “bigotry switch”. So, why, I thought, did these ass holes. I mean, that's what they were, ass holes. But they shouldn't have made me paint the entire country with that brush. What was it about them that made me instantly go defensive, to assume the worst? I never did figure it out, but I was definitely more mindful, more careful, slower to judge. I didn't want anyone to assume the worst about me, so I had no right to do that to someone else. That's what I hung on to. I also thought that based on what the women from Saudi I had met, told me, these men weren't used to the freedom women have here in the States, so it often took them aback. OK, I thought, I can handle this, they're new, virginal, almost. So I was more gentle even if I did have to tell them to piss off.

I was careful after that, never to assume that the Saudi Arabian man was a dick. It was hard, that knee-jerk reaction can be hard to break. That fear and disgus5t that stems from countless bad actions from that group of people isn't something you can consciously control. But I worked hard to remember that the way I was feeling was much the same as the person who called gay men “queers” or “faggots” because he was afraid of his own sexuality; it was no different from my great-grandmother calling African-Americans that sickening word. I refused to be that way, and was able to change that.

Evangelicals, though, the more time that passes, the more cemented my prejudice is becoming. I'm sorry to say I automatically get defensive when I hear them talking. When I stumble across a blog about how much they love them some football and Jesus, when I see daily devotionals on their FaceBook pages, but in the next breath they're talking about how much “those people” need to go away. I admit it, I despise evangelical fundies. Bordering on irrational, but I do.

I flinch when they come to the door, when they start talking about their God. I want to shake them. I know their book better than they do, but they get really defensive when you tell them that. Even more so, when you don't tell them, you just prove it.

I want to shut them up, make them go away, make them stop begin so hateful to the LGBT community. I want them to stop rallying against marital equality; to shut up about abortion rights; to fuck off about the war. Tell them to take their warmongering and shove it up their asses-- if they're so willing to fight a war, they need to go themselves, not send other people's kids. I want them to stop supporting the death penalty, if they're really so pro-life. I want to call them out on they hypocrisy, shove their noses in their own actions, show them that they aren't the only people who matter! That the world doesn't revolve around them nor is everything always about them!

I want them to see, actually open their eyes and see how they're not oppressed, but the oppressors. See how they've earned every single negative emotion they've garnered. That they aren't suffering for Jesus, but their own egos and power trips.

I apologised to my oldest son last week. I told him that while I have taught them to see people for themselves, not the groups they can be put into, I also know that they're learning to find fundies despicable, because of me. And I am sorry about that. I told him I was trying to fight that knee jerk defensiveness, that I was trying very hard to see them as separate people, instead of the groups they're in. But I was failing, and I know it.

He laughed. My almost-15 year old son laughed at me. “It's OK, Mum. Everyone has something they fight with themselves about. If I have to worry about treating evangelicals fairly, but never think twice about anyone else, then I think I'll be OK.”

This is the son that's agnostic, who thinks atheists are just as wonderful as Pagans. Who sees religion as a personal choice, not something you wave around and attack people with. Who is pro-woman, pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-LGBT and learning sex positivity-- even though he's not currently having it. This son has absorbed good lessons, I think, never thinking twice when he sees a woman in hijab or chador. He doesn't flinch when he sees someone in a yarmulke, doesn't seem to notice the colour of anyone's skin. He tries to value people for what's between their ears, and so I think he's going to turn out A-OK.

He does giggle when he sees people get flustered when he tells them, “I'm not interested in your religion,” at school. When he's presented with their god, he merely tells them, “No thanks. I'm good. If I have questions, I”ll just ask my Mum. She knows more than you do about it.” My son is also a smart ass.

I think as long as we're honestly trying to see past the bigotry, past the prejudice, the stereotype, and working to shed them. I think we're going to be OK, too. I think as long as I keep trying, keep pushing myself to see past the dogma and rhetoric that fundies spout, to remember that they're terrified, because their religion traffics in fear, then I'll be more kind, slower to judge, and more open to them. No one should be terrified by their God, or the man who purports to speak for their God.

At least, I honestly truly hope I'm OK. If not, at least I know I'm working on it.

*White Privilege can be summed up as all the things we white people get away with because of institutionalised racism in the past, and even in places now. We have an easier time getting a job, buying a house, even getting into some colleges, just because of the past, and our skin colour. Because at one time we were thought to be better, some how, that makes us the “default” now. It's horrible, embarrassing and I am so very sorry. I was taught to make sure I “never took advantage of anyone”, my mother never said the words white privilege, but after I grew up and learned them, I knew that's what she was aiming for. I don't know if she succeeded, but I do try to work with and against the system so that other people are brought up to my level. A level playing field brings us all up, it doesn't bring anyone down. Oh, sorry, /rant.

** In case you're wondering, I am good with accents, and can tell fairly quickly where you're from based on the way you talk. There are particular sounds that a person makes when speaking English that aren't common in Hindi, for example-- just like the cadence of our speech isn't the same, hence the singing way a native Indian uses English.

The same is true for Arabian speakers. Yes, there are several dialects that are common in that part of the world, but they all have some sounds in common, and those sounds aren't used in English. In the same way we use sounds they don't. That's how I knew the men were from Saudi Arabia. I had asked several woman where they were from, women with that distinct accent-- it's very pretty, I think.


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