Friday, March 17, 2006

Whence Comes Bigotry

I'm hoping that by exposing this demon, I can exorcise it. I am, apparantly, a racist. This is a difficult thing for me to acknowledge. My maternal grandmother was a bigot, though she would deny it vehemently, and her attitude towards minorities was a major factor in our estrangement during the last decade of her life. She would often start a conversation with, "Now I'm not a racist, but..." and then say some horrible thing about 'blacks(must be whispered lest any of them hear), or Puerto Ricans(again, spoken like it was the height of blasphemy)'. As a child I never noticed, but as I grew older I came to tolerate it less and less, and would call her on it, as if I could change her mind on such things. I know, now, how futile that was, and I regret the distance we had at the end. But today, however, I am forced to realize that self-same trait in my own personality, albeit less obviously manifest. Allow me to explain.

For many years now I have noticed that I notice when I do something nice for a black person. If I hold the door open for a black woman, rather than just feel good about doing something nice, my brain makes a point of saying 'hey, way to be not racist.' Or if I do something nice while driving, same thing. I have managed to rationalize these little bigotries away, but over the last two days I have noticed something that has forced me to face my racism, and hopefully begin to abolish it. Yesterday I saw a little black girl eating a mango at the grocery store, and again this morning another little black girl eating one on the way to school. Big deal, one would think, but a little voice in my head begged the question, would I have noticed a white girl eating a mango? And if so, would I have thought anything other than yuck?(I don't like mangos) It bothers me that I noticed something like that. I know that eating mangos is a black stereotype, but maybe these children simply like mangos, and it has nothing to do with their ethnicity. Granted, there are cultural differences between blacks and whites, but why do we attach a negative connotation to these things? Where did this almost unconscious disdain come from? Why do I have an inner Archie Bunker when such thinking is antithetical to everything I believe in? Is the white culture so much better? The first heart transplant was performed by a black doctor, and the holocaust was orchestrated by some of the whitest white people in history.

Race is such an arbitrary factor that it should be irrelevent in all things save choice of sunscreen, yet even the most, supposedly, enlightened of us cannot dissasociate ourselves from it. Simple evolutionary adaptations to environmental conditions should not be a basis for judgement of character, but we do just that every day. I like to consider myself civilized, and above such things, but perhaps noticing the mote in everyone else's eyes has blinded me to the plank in my own. Now I need to find a pair of industrial strength tweezers.



pikaresque said...

Trying to recognize a problem is a good thing.But..
Could it have been that you simply saw a beautiful child in a simple moment of enjoying eating a piece of fruit?
And that because of your "family history" and the distain you have about it, immediately went to the
"ut, oh...I'd better not think like a racist" part of your brain??? (maybe)
I also have members of my family that are giant biggots, and it does get tiring trying to explain things to them, or just the hoping that they "will change their spots" as it were.
There might be many things that you are...but being a racist is never one that seemed to surface with me.
Try hollding a door for everyone (which I suspect you do) and just be glad that you've done a simple, nice, thing for any human on the planet.

Rhonda said...

Unfortunately, many of us who are in our 40's (though I still don't know how that happened!!!) were raised with bigotry as an accepted thing from at least one relative. It's been programmed in, and though we try to erase it, the ghost is there. Seeing that ghost is a good start, I think, but don't make yourself nuts over it. As long as you don't act on that little bit of leftover bs programming, and don't pass it on to the next generation, there's no harm done. Just don't let that little ghost keep you from calling the racists of all the rainbow on it.... I get so tired of being told only whites can be racist... :::sighs::: and never think you're alone.

Anonymous said...

I battle with the same demon myself, from time to time. I agree with P and R. . . society (in my case) has left its mark on me regardless of my upbringing or what I feel my heart truly believes. You are not alone (and you're certainly NOT a racist). I think there are very few of us, however liberal and non-racist we believe ourselves to be, whose thoughts NEVER cross the line of stereotyping. I'm not excusing it; I'm just saying it's a fact of life. Don't beat yourself up over it; just try (as you are) to be more aware of it and eliminate it as best you can.