“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” ~ Maya Angelou.
We are all guilty of snap judgments, of using a first impression to rush to a conclusions. As a writer, my first sentence must entice, must draw you in, or you will quickly move on. For some, that first impression can have deadly consequences. Our latest incident of dead while black occurred close to home this time, yet Palm Beach Gardens and Corey Jones have not elicited the same kinds of protesting crowds and nightly news coverage that Ferguson or Baltimore did. Is it a Florida thing?
But why do we jump to conclusions, and base our opinions on the superficial, the appearance of another? Is it a primitive response, based on a survival instinct? Are we hardwired to assess for danger and react reflexively rather than with caution and care? Or are we conditioned by a lifetime of propaganda and incomplete information about groups of ‘others’, those who are different from us?
On a website called Project Implicit, university researchers have created a set of quick tests designed to uncover our hidden prejudices, our deeper instinctive responses to people, based on race, sexual orientation, size, disability and more. It is a tricky set of exercises, but it may help you to acknowledge that your instinctive response to people may not be what you think it is. It can be used to help employers identify whether or not they are as prejudice free as they think they are.
The other day I watched Oprah interview Gloria Steinem, a lifelong feminist and activist for equality and justice. Her answer to one of Oprah’s questions made me pause. When asked what she would tell her younger self, what advice she would give her, she replied that she would tell her to find what it is she can do that is unique to her. Let other people do the things that anyone can do, she should find out what it is that she is uniquely able to do, and do it. What would happen if we all followed this advice?
My experiences have provided me an opportunity to live a multicultural life. As a white person I have been given a perspective on black life by growing up in rural Jamaica. Without giving too much thought to it I fell in love, married and had four kids. Recently there was a blog posted on facebook that addressed the strange reaction that the world has to ‘mixed’ kids, how ‘cute’ they are, which raises a whole other conversation about beauty and skin color and self-acceptance. It prompted a response from my daughter, who many years ago had asked her father why he had married a white woman. She gave examples of all of our neighbors, black men married to black women. She and her brothers grew up in that category of ‘other’, having to explain their looks, their background. Often people will speak to them in Spanish. In my youthful idealism, I had not thought ahead to what my children would face. I was just making a family. And hoping that I was contributing to the melting pot sung about years ago, turning out ‘coffee colored people by the score’.
Sometimes that which initially appears to be a giant obstacle, a stumbling block becomes that which provides you with your biggest advantage. My desire as a white child to blend in to a mostly black population provided me with an in-depth knowledge of a culture and a people. It has also given me a perspective on prejudice and injustice that I might not have had if my family had remained in England all those years ago. It certainly would not have provided me with the four children and two grandchildren that I have now!
This Friday morning I hope you can stop for a moment and think about what is your particular talent, what are you uniquely able to do that you are not doing? What can you do that no one else can do, and are you doing it? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering and may not be money making, but it may help you to fulfill your purpose here on earth. Have a fantastic weekend Family!