I know this is a sensitive subject, but I want to be honest about it. First off, I know that the last thing anyone wants to admit to is having a racist or prejudiced thought. For some reason, we think that if we have a wayward thought or idea about this subject even once in a while that it automatically puts us in the company of the KKK or other hate groups. However, I believe that if we live long enough, all of us will have at least occasional prejudiced/racist/stereotypical thoughts or ideas. It is unfortunately a part of living in the culture we exist in. By pretending that we never have these ideas, we are actually making the problem worse, not better. If we could identify our prejudiced or stereotypical thoughts and recognize them for what they are, then we could consciously decide to change those beliefs and ideas. That is the way we could really get rid of the damaging effects of prejudice.
For instance, most of us have at least some stereotypical beliefs. Even positive ones (like that Asians are all super smart or that African Americans are better athletes) are still stereotypes. I admit that I occasionally have stereotypical beliefs, so when I do, I have to consciously grab them and think them through to decide whether they are really true or not. For instance, watching the news makes it easy for me to think that all conservatives look down on the poor and are greedy. Of course, this is not always true, but it is a stereotype I see frequently. On the other side, I know many people stereotype liberals as being wimpy and lazy. The trouble is that most of the time these beliefs are not critically analyzed and we only look at one side of the story (the one we happen to agree with). We are all victims of bias and perception, but we refuse to see it.
As a child, I honestly do not remember prejudice or racism. I grew up in an urban Indiana neighborhood that was very much a melting pot. My elementary school was probably at least 50% minority, although back then I never even thought about that kind of stuff. My mom dated guys outside of her race and for a while one of those guys was like a second father to me and lived with us. My older sister’s first real boyfriend was from a minority as well. I think my first real look at prejudice came around the age of 11 when I moved to a small town in Georgia. In this small town minorities were rare and in my middle and high school, racism definitely existed. Most minorities stuck to their own kind. There wasn’t a lot of intermixing and the town was almost set up in a segregated fashion (clearly marked minority neighborhoods and even a separate cemetery for non-whites). This new culture was certainly a shock to me, as were some of the hateful comments I heard. Of course, these people would have denied being prejudiced if confronted, but behind the scenes they were definitely not shy about their beliefs.
As an adult, I definitely try to be open-minded and not stereotype people or groups, but I will admit that I am not perfect. For instance, one night I remember my husband and I going to a local White Castle and noticing that we were the only “white” people in the crowded restaurant. I hate to admit it, but I experienced some momentary discomfort and just felt kind of “out of place”. However, as I sat there, I thought about the fact that minorities probably often find themselves in this kind of situation. I’m used to looking around and seeing lots of other people who look like me, but many others don’t regularly have that experience. Thinking the issue through, truly gave me an entirely new perspective and made me sympathize with those who often find themselves surrounded by others who are different from them in some way.
I’ll also admit that the first time we took in a foster child from a minority that I was a little more anxious than I should have been. When we accepted that foster placement, we didn’t even know he was from a minority, so when I first saw him I was surprised a bit and also a little worried. My first thoughts were to question whether I could do a good job raising someone from a different culture, however, once the child moved in and we got to know him it was soon clear that underneath the exterior differences he was just like every other kid we had taken in. Soon I was going to bat for him against others who were stereotyping him or treating him like he didn’t exist.
In the end, my point is that when we do have thoughts or experiences that bring out the “prejudice” or “racism” hidden inside of us, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow if we face it head on and think things through. However, if we just sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, we only help to perpetuate the problem.