All of us have probably experienced prejudice on one level or another in our lives if we’ve lived very long. One of the most frequent triggers when speaking about prejudice is a black and white issue, but that one area is only the tip of the iceberg.
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, I was often the object of prejudice toward, “hillbillies.” All these years later, I was recently shocked to hear someone making remarks about “rednecks” and “mountain men.” Those comments brought back a flood of memories of prejudice against southerners in the north. On the flip side of that coin were southern cousins who thought those of us who had been drug north for our fathers to find good jobs were snobs and “putting on the dog.”
Prejudice is usually a two-way street. Rich people might look down their noses at poor people and think their poverty comes from laziness or a lack of ambition, instead of factoring in the job opportunities available in an area. Poor people may be tempted to think that anyone wealthy inherited their situation rather than having had to work for it.
Some years back, a gentleman in another state asked me if I was “packing,” when he found out I was from southeastern Kentucky. Based on stories he had heard in his life about this region, he assumed that everyone owned and carried a weapon. On the other end of that, people who are so close to the earth and honor the survival skills of our ancestors may be surprised to discover how many “outsiders” hunt as a sport and are excellent marksmen.
On another occasion a lady from my college days had come for a visit to the area and even though I told her otherwise, I heard a disturbing phone call she made. “These people still use outhouses and put them right out by the road. They don’t even have doors on them.” She was, of course, talking about school bus stop shelters and not outhouses. Her prejudice overruled the explanation I had given her.
I suppose every culture feels they do things the “right” way, and that their ways are logical to everyone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have a tendency to see the world through our own experiences and judge others based on our own values and knowledge of life.
I still remember when any man with long hair was automatically assumed to be a drug using hippie. I also remember the prejudice against any woman with very short “man” hair. She was assumed to be a women’s libber and totally unfeminine.
A man driving a Jeep or a big, loud truck might be assumed to be a “good old boy.” The same man driving a convertible Mercedes would likely be thought of as a “ladies’ man.”
Aren’t pretty people preferred over plain ones? Aren’t thin people congratulated for their genetic make-up while bigger people are looked upon with disdain?
If we are totally honest, we all have areas where we must work very hard not to be prejudiced about other people just because they are different from ourselves and their ways are unfamiliar.
Mark Twain wisely observed, “The very ink with which history is written is fluid prejudice.”
Newborn babies are the only human beings without any form of prejudice, but even they soon begin to form preferences. May we be wise enough to recognize our preferences as simply that and not let them grow into prejudice of any kind.
Reach Judith Victoria Hensley at [email protected] or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.