Part I of V
I’ve decided to wade into the intimidating if not frightening waters of speaking out on prejudice and how it applies to my own life. I am not under the illusion that my own experiences of discrimination have been anything like those of people of color (POC). The police violence that has at long last come under scrutiny, by “white” people, as well, has never been a threat to me, although I have had some incidents where police were more assertive, suspicious and dismissive than seemed necessary… but also some instances when they were kind and attentive. I assume this may not have been the case were I black, or Hispanic. (I don’t really like the terms “white” and “black” to describe skin color or race. I find they are too closely linked with mythology and with white meaning good, pious or moral, and black implying the darker side of human nature. But pretty much everyone will know what I mean if I use “white” or “black” to describe people in this racial discussion, so I’m using them with the caveat that I don’t like the terms.)
I’ve been considering the difference between cultural or racial bias and/or prejudice. My own definition of prejudice is when someone makes a rigid or damning judgement about another person, based on limited information, such as skin color, age, religion or ability, that affects willingness to treat them as an equal, or even to being open to finding out what they really think, feel or how they normally behave. This is most often seen in the context of race, judgement based upon skin color alone. But it can also be cultural, and this is where we are ankle deep in the lake that holds both bias and prejudice.
I have been discriminated against for being partially disabled or handicapped from polio (and have had one non-disabled person and one disabled person tell me that I “should not” use the word “handicapped,” but my personal feeling is that the term implies needing a little extra allowance for physical ability, so I prefer it to disabled). As a teenager, I knew that dating was not going to be the same for me with a paralyzed leg (not a physical trait which anyone considered attractive). Sometimes this was emotionally painful, but mostly I thought there was something wrong with my personality when invitations to dates were rare, so I beat myself up for that rather than my skinny little limpy leg. Later, when I was able to drive, frequently people (mostly in their 60’s or 70’s) came up to my car window when I was parking in a disabled person’s spot and told me I was not supposed to park there. Then we’d have the ensuing discussion about my having had polio, how I looked too young to be handicapped (another prejudicial stereotype; lots of young people are disabled). But that’s a lot different from being stopped while driving for just being black or Hispanic or Asian.
More recently, but thirty years ago, my now-husband’s parents, having been influenced by another family member, refused to see Richard and I as a couple for some years because I was: eleven years older, handicapped, and a student of western Sufi mysticism, which they felt was threatening to their Jewish family because Sufism originally was an offshoot of Islam. (Western Sufism acknowledges and studies all world religions and seeks their unity.) They said I had three strikes against me. Eventually they relented when they saw that their son really loved me, that we were good for each other, and that their fears had been a bias based upon a lack of knowledge. I was reminded of this experience when I saw “Loving,” the film made about Mr. and Mrs. Loving, a black woman and white man who were in love in the 1950’s and 60’s and eventually went to the Supreme Court to fight for their right to be married in their southern home state. I was privileged not to have skin color added to the list of reasons why I was deemed not good enough to marry the man I loved, nor was it illegal for a woman of Anglo-Celtic ancestry to marry a Jew. So although all of this was upsetting, we did not have as much societal prejudice set against us.