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Prejudice and Pride December 27, 2005

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Race and Prejudice.
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Culturally, I’ll admit to being very uncool… very… white. I have little use for anything that has “street cred,” I don’t want to have any “bling,” and if someone wanted to “pimp my ride,” I would give serious consideration to physical violence. Along the same lines, when cultures clash, and I’m in the midst of someone who uses language on par with Eminem, P-Diddy, or 50-cent (clearly, an uncool way to refer to him), I tend to make snap judgements about their intelligence. This is in spite of the fact that, over and over again, life has taught me that this behavior from me demonstrates the same lack of intelligence that I’m so quick to ascribe to others.

For example, a teenage friend of mine recently came into church on a Sunday morning with his hair spiked up into a super mowhawk. Someone leaned over and said, “What a weirdo.” I laughed and started to verbally agree, when I recognized the kid beneath the hair. I remembered him to be quite smart, though not necessarily scholastically-oriented. At that moment, I leaned over and said, “Well, the hair isn’t my style, but I know the guy, and you’d be surprised.” The look I got in response was an unspoken, “You’re kidding me. You KNOW that guy?” I just smiled, and smugly thought to myself that I had once again demonstrated how incredibly deep I was, and prided myself on my lack of prejudice.

On further reflection though, I realized that my reaction was based in the fact that I already knew him. The truth is, I’m as likely as anyone to look at some kid with strange hair or a bunch of “bling” and think of him (or her) as a punk. I’m foolishly quick to judge, based solely on appearance. Now granted, there are more than enough people with undeveloped judgement, who choose to associate themselves with all kinds of less-than-intellectual ideas and lifestyles. However, the fact that teenagers tend to align themselves with people who run counter to the thoughts and ideas of their parents is well-established, so why should it be surprising if this exhibits itself with ideas and appearances that run counter to my sensibilities? (This is especially not surprising given my age.)

Now, it would be one thing if my prejudice were limited to only my reaction to teenage hairstyles, movies, and music. Unfortunately, it goes further. While I am quick to look at someone from Vietnam, Italy, or Germany, and make all sorts of allowances for differences in their cultural heritage, I’m much slower to make those allowances for someone from the U.S. who has a different cultural background from mine.

Oddly enough, it seems only tangentially related to skin color. I noticed this the other night as I was watching an old Cosby Show episode. It occurred to me that almost all of the characters displayed in the show were very similar to me. Depending on who you talk to, you might even say, in spite of their skin color, they were very “white.” I know Cosby has taken all sorts of grief from the African-American community for “abandoning people of color” in his comments about how the community has failed young African-American men.

Immediately following the Cosby Show episode was the Steve Harvey show, which was similar, but explored some of the cultural clash within “Black and White America.” I found myself looking for the remote, finding some of the jokes a bit too… well… black. I just couldn’t relate.

Even worse, I’ve found myself having the same reaction to the George Lopez show. I can see the humor in many situations, but any number of the jokes seem so culturally isolated, that I can’t relate. On the other end of the scale, I see people from “high society,” have the same inner disdain. I immediately dismiss them as shallow, arrogant, or worse brainless.

In truth, shallow, arrogant, and brainless people fill all levels of society, in every culture. (Even the preceding sentence is rife with value judgements.) Am I allowed to look down upon someone who grew up in a cultural environment far different from mine, and whose life requires them to make moral choices that I’ve never faced? How is it that I am allowed to make value judgements about the relative worth of random personal attributes?

Maybe the end of the year has me feeling this way, or maybe the onslaught of New Year’s resolutions that I expect to see. Whatever the case, I’m finding myself wondering if a year from now, I’ll find myself more bigoted and close-minded, or more tolerant and forgiving.

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