Monday, January 21, 2008

Thinking about Color

Today is a federal holiday--National Anti-Prejudice Day. What's that you say? You thought it was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday? Yes, and how will this day be celebrated? Mostly it will be celebrated with activities remembering his legacy--a legacy based on anti-prejudice.

I grew up in the southwest in a time when there were signs in the windows that declared, "No Indians Allowed!" I bet you didn't know that happened in this country. My ancestors weren't allowed to vote, own property, inter-marry with other folk--black or white. Prejudice isn't just about skin color... it's about being different from the ruling majority, whatever that might be.

Notice that I said the ruling majority. The ruling majority might not be the actual physical majority in numbers. But the power brokers are the ruling majority, economically and socially. I grew up in the turbulent sixties in Gary, Indiana and Chicago. When I started high school, my school was 97% Jewish. Four years later when I graduated, my school was 75% black.

What happened? Integration happened. Busing happened. Only in Chicago, that meant students from the far south side of Chicago traveled via public transport for two hours or more to attend my school. A little known fact--no students from the north side were forced to travel that same two hours to the south side. Wonder why that was? Because the ruling majority decided that wasn't necessary.

Forty years later why are there still color issues? Because skin color/racial type are the easiest ways to identify differences. Today racial profiling is the new catch word. Only we've always had profiling. Now we just have a name for it. Generalizations about certain types abound.

Indian/Pakistani families own the gas stations and fast food stores.

Black men go to jail more often.

Hispanics are lazy and uneducated.

All Arabs are terrorists.

Fat people are greedy pigs.

Baptists are prudes.

Jews are tight wads.

Mormons are all polygamists.

Whites are bigots.

What? What? You say, I'm not one of those... Really? Do your children know? Prejudice is such an insidious thing. I've been with individuals who stopped for a donut and coffee and had less that complimentary things to say about the servers. The interesting thing is that the comment is always based on race, rather than the actual problem. If the server didn't get your order correct speak to the management. Don't make nasty remarks about the server's origins. When is the last time you heard someone complain about a waitress, "She got our order all wrong. These white people are lazy and can't be bothered." Huh?

When I was a young woman, the worst thing I could have done is marry a man outside of my religion. Literally, I would have been thrown out of my family if I had dared marry a Catholic or a Mormon or a Lutheran. That's how it was said with this whispered accent on the word like you were saying a dirty word. Now assuming I married within my religion, then the next hurdle was to marry within my own racial/ethnic type. Under no circumstances were you to marry an Italian or Russian or Mexican. They might actually speak some language other than English. Of course, you didn't want to marry outside of your geographical area. If you did, thirty years later your spouse was still "that Northerner" or "that feller from California"--or worst of the worst--"that guy from Texas". Who knew what kind of weird things those Texans did?

There will always be discomfort when you are the only person of your own racial/ethnic type when surrounded by those different than you. I think that's a deep visceral protective reaction. On some hidden level, our hackles rise even though we aren't in actual danger because we aren't with our "own kind". I'm not so sure that that's a bad thing. Remember that ruling majority thing. When you're out of your comfort zone you're more cautious.

The only way to deal with prejudice is a head-on approach. Face to face contact. Noooo, I'm not talking about kissing--at least not on the first meeting. But personal contact, getting to know the other individual, nearly always elicits that surprising thought, "He or she is just another person." Perhaps one on one, we can get past thinking about color.


Stop by Kelly's Blog and Amarinda's Place Blessings on your day!


  1. Great post, Anny!

    My brother married a Catholic, and I was aghast when I heard that my aunt was upset because he was marrying someone who she believed wasn't Christian. I am still embarrassed that someone I'm related to would say such a thing.

    Now I live in the most segregated area in the US outside of the deep South. We struggle against it everyday, the racism and prejudice is so ingrained. People around here will often say things like: "The school system used to be great until the ______ move in."

    Sometimes the fight seems unwinable.

  2. The fight will never be won outright. It's the little differences and choices we make which allow it to be tolerable in our homes. I for one am glad Anny doesn't mind friending a *lutheran* (whisper whisper). I would have missed out on so much.

    Ironically, my kids are in school today. They did have it off until it was called a snow make up day. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that would never fly in a bigger city.

  3. My kids have school today where they'll spend most of the day discussing MLK, discrimination and prejudice. My daycare kids have the day off.

    Silly gooses thought they'd get to play video games all day...but alas they're here. So they'll also spend most of the day discussing MLK, discrimination and prejudice.

  4. I never had any problems with ethnic diversity until high school, and there were only 5 African-Americans in my grade. When I got to college, I met more, but soon afterwards, the fact their skin was a different color made no difference. I saw the person, not the skin color.

  5. Count on Amarinda to boil it down to its essence. :-)

  6. Hey Ms Anny...Congrats on winning LRC's Best New Author:)

  7. Well said, Anny.
    And what's this about LRC/s best new author? Details please.

  8. Very good post... many would be afraid to be so bold. Thanks for saying what others know it true.

  9. Ah, Sam...
    We grew up with bold, didn't we? Thanks for commenting!