“Everyone is prejudiced. The dangerous ones are those who think they are not.”
This was stated by a friend while working on a NASA project. We were in the rural South. There had been growing pains in the surrounding area due to the influx of people from out of state. Most of the new-comers were from California, but not all.
The local police chief in the little town decided to put an end to the widespread violation of the law that he was seeing in his town. I can’t remember which was a 30-day limit and which was a 60-day limit, but you had to get a local driver’s license by one of those limits and new license plates by the other. It had been well over a year and most of the cars in the NASA parking lot had California license plates. The “sting” operation was set up by the police chief. He stood in the road with his radar gun. The speed limit was 30mph. He would give a hand signal to all speed violators to his officers that were waiting in the NASA parking lot. The officers gave tickets to everyone that was speeding. That gave them cause to check driver’s licenses and license plates and pile on the charges. This assumed guilt without knowing when the speeder had moved to the area.
What the police chief didn’t count on was that California people don’t like being harassed. Were they guilty? Absolutely, and of all charges. But, one of the first with a ticket called the local news, an hour drive down the road. Before the “sting” was over (We had flexible starting times.), the media were shoving cameras in the faces of the police chief and his officers. The police chief said something on camera along the lines of, “Them there damned California Noggin’ Heads can’t ignore the law. I’m here to learn them a thing or two.”
Once that was front page news in the major news markets (over an hour’s drive away in any direction), the judge declared all of the citations to be inadmissible. The “sting” was a combination of targeting and prejudicial actions by the police. At that hour, we were the only ones driving down that road. I drove my small pickup truck by the police chief at about 45mph, 15mph over the limit. The police chief smiled and waved, because my tag in the front of the truck showed that I was an alumnus of a local university. I wasn’t a California Noggin’ Head. Therefore, no speeding ticket.
While a few of the semi-honest Californians paid their fines before the judge announced his decision, they all were chastised by the big bosses. We were strangers in a strange area of the backwoods. We had to live by the rules. The police chief got what he wanted, but at a cost of humiliation. As for the Noggin’ Heads, there were bumper stickers made, but the real problem was that we were all busy. Few people had vacation time available to get a new driver’s license, and the DMV didn’t have hours of operation outside of our work hours. The bosses relaxed the flexibility of the work hours even further to accommodate.
In this instance, I don’t think that the police chief was ignorant of the fact that he didn’t like outsiders simply because they were outsiders, but many people are ignorant of their own prejudices. Ignorance in this case is defined as a lack of knowledge (that is actually true). We have a tendency to fill in the gaps or fill the void, possibly with things that aren’t true. The keys to prejudice are ignorance and the fear of the unknown.
I grew up in a rural area outside of a small town of about 3000 people (at the time) in northern Mississippi. If Mississippi is known for anything in this country, the media has no problem in portraying Mississippi people as backward, ignorant, and highly prejudiced. That means that anyone coming into Mississippi is prejudiced. They have heard and believed the media. What they find is a mixture of people, some ignorant, others brilliant, others in between.
When I grew up in that small community, it was the “Jim Crow” south. (Oh, how I hate that term.) There was unequal segregation, but with that being said, we had segregated whites and blacks only. While in high school, we slowly moved toward integration of the schools. I had black classmates. There were no racial problems. In fact, the homecoming queen for our high school the year after I graduated was a black girl. She was attractive, smart, and outgoing. No one was trying to overcompensate for underlying prejudice. She was simply the perfect combination of things that you look for in a homecoming queen. And it really didn’t matter what the invited alumnae thought when they came to the homecoming football game. The students had the necessary knowledge that skin color was irrelevant.
My mother was the bookkeeper and insurance person for one of the doctor offices in town when integration was made mandatory in all public places. The colored waiting room in the back of the building became my mother’s office. The wall to her old office was torn down to make the waiting room larger. But many of the black patients would knock on her outside door, their old entrance. She’d tell them to go around front, but they wouldn’t move. She’d give up and let them sit in her visitor’s chair. She’d walk the length of the building to let the receptionist know who was in the back waiting. Then, she got to go back to her work, while eyes were watching everything that she did.
You see, the black people were just as afraid of this integration thing as the whites. Why? Because we didn’t know each other. We had been segregated. We were ignorant of how the other side lived, how the other side thought, and how the other side believed. Whichever side you have in anything, if we are ignorant of the other side, we will fear, we will become prejudiced, and, sad to say, our barrier toward hate is weakened. I’m not saying we hate what we don’t know, but it becomes easier to cross into hate when we don’t know. Those that hate are usually those that refused to learn and rise from their ignorance. It wasn’t that they couldn’t learn, but they chose to not learn either from their own frustration or influences from others, the gang or bully mentality. Their ignorance led to fear, and fear to hate.
What made my upbringing worse was that I was raised in a small town that only had black and white Christian Protestants. When I was a senior in high school, on one Sunday, my mother hurried me to the car after church was over. We rushed down the road about a mile to watch the people at the Catholic Church leave the service. My mother said, “We have to check them out. They might have grown tails.” I think and hope she said it as a joke, but we’d never seen Catholics before, not that we knew, anyway. When this happened, the Catholic Church had only been opened a week or two.
I had traveled to nearly half of the states by the time that I graduated from high school, but when I mention meeting someone for the first time in this paragraph, I mean to really get to know them. I met the first person with a name ending in “S-K-I” in college. I met my first Asian in college. I met my first Pacific islander in college. I met my first Jew in college, but we weren’t very close. I met my first Persian in college. (He made sure that we considered him Persian. He didn’t want anything to do with the Shah of Iran.) That introduced me to completely different aspects of prejudice. Racism isn’t the only thing considered when speaking of prejudice. Some people don’t like turkey bacon, because it isn’t pork, but have they actually tried it? During my sophomore year in college, I spent most of the year in the dorm. My roommate was a Catholic from Pittsburgh, PA. My mother was visibly agitated. He was a Catholic, but he was also a Yankee! He was crude and rude. Maybe that’s why I liked him. I tried to be polite, and he didn’t have those barriers. I stayed within my barriers, but the naughty voice inside me admired his freedom.
If college doesn’t break you free from prejudice, marrying an out-of-town girl might. My wife was born in Indonesia. She was Eurasian. Her mother was Eurasian and her father was Dutch, wooden shoes and all. She had lived on three continents and ridden camels in Egypt during the voyages between Indonesia and Holland. She had lived half of her life in Texas by the time I met her, immigrating legally, and naturalized. On the other hand, I had never left the US, if you don’t count a week in Puerto Rico visiting my sister. (My sister’s husband was stationed at the Air Force base there.)
I would hate for the US to go back to a compulsory military draft, but working side-by-side with people of all kinds of backgrounds has a profound effect on prejudice. When the guys to your left and your right are armed to the teeth and will shoot anyone that means you harm, they may be black, white, red, yellow, or purple. That color means nothing. We were all brothers in green. Did we fight? Occasionally. I went to the dentist in the middle of the night to pick up one of my guys. One of my other guys, who was drunk, knocked out his front teeth. After some midnight emergency surgery, they were hopeful that his teeth would re-root.
Now I look upon a country that is horribly broken. The white-black issue has never gone away, but that is secondary to the left-right political issue. And why? Both sides are ignorant of the other side and they are convinced that the other side is evil. Ignorance and fear, all over again. But when I was growing up, we had an overtone of Christian values. But our Christian lifestyle has been the greatest victim of changes in society over the past 50 years.
I lived through the counter culture of the hippies, the civil rights movement, the angst over the Vietnam War, and the revolution of the youth toward the “work hard and be rewarded eventually” business paradigm. There was also the constant fear of nuclear destruction. All of those happened at once. The drug culture just caused us to chase symptoms instead of the bottom line. We were losing our spiritual center.
I can force you into new business paradigms and if you want to succeed, you will follow them. I can force you into treating everyone as equal and even giving preferential (better than equal) treatment to those who have previously been mistreated, and you will pretend to like your co-workers. I can force you to not say anything about your religious beliefs, and your heart may break, but you will remain silent.
The problem is, once we’ve been forced to accept every aspect of life without dealing with the root causes of fear and ignorance, we cause everything to bottle up inside. The powers that be have bullied by force rather than ridding us of fear and ignorance.
Once our insides are boiling, we see nothing but our way of thinking. There is no way of thinking but our own. The other side is a side that is wrong. There is no means of compromise when the other side is evil. Instead, the other side must be conquered with force. And we listen to the media as they pour oil on the fire in spoken and unspoken language.
How do we fix it? We have to reverse a Supreme Court decision that was poorly made when you consider the documented beliefs of our forefathers. Bringing up Biblical teaching in a public forum is unconstitutional, isn’t it? We can’t talk about what Jesus said in Matthew 22:34-40.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”