For as long as I can think clearly, I will ponder prejudice. I will bounce perspectives back and forth and try to determine if something is or is not reasonable, founded or unfounded. Is the comment harmful or merely a generalization? Are we all capable of prejudice? It isn’t as if we all don’t have some prejudice that we use to simplify our lives. Often you can hear unreasonable, preconceived judgments coming out of me and others. I may have made quick judgments about people in certain occupations without having any basis of fact.
“Kindergarten teachers are just so creative and caring!” Obviously this quote is a safe prejudice to admit, but it demonstrates exactly what prejudice is founded on. I understand kindergarten teachers from my own value system. I haven’t studied or conducted research on the creativeness and kindness factor of all kindergarten teachers. In fact, I know roughly less than thirty such people all from the province of Canada in which I reside.
The funny thing is, I know fewer Syrians, I know primarily Caucasian Canadians and New Englanders. I would like to know more Syrians and people from many other cultures, but I didn’t live near many cultural groups. I am the epitome of vanilla. I am not particularly proud of it, but there is little I can do about my cultural exposure now, except travel. (In my defence, I do like to travel.) I also like to comment on current affairs without doing much research. My information comes from the news primarily.
In my bland world though, I am not immune to examples of prejudice relating to diversity. Diversity in my small corner of the world would generally include gender, sexual orientation, disability, country of origin, indigenous origin, and racial origin. Please excuse the limitation of those categories. I can think of many other interesting categories as well. How about musically talented, scientific, literary, athletic, artistic, dramatic, illusionist….. all can apply to each diverse category to yield a very diverse group!
So, what got me started on prejudice tonight? It was actually a somewhat subtle comment. A well intentioned colleague approached me today, quite alarmed and sympathetic toward one of our other co-workers. His dilemma was the other co-worker had “replied to all” on a request of our human resource department to update our personal information for the personnel files. In this information, disclosed to some 300 plus colleagues, the other co-worker indicated his “significant other” was male. My colleague was worried that now everyone knew about the co-worker’s sexual orientation. This was both the alarming part and the sympathetic part of the story.
Had “I” replied to all, would it have caused such sympathy? Unlikely, as I have a pretty common marital status that would not have attracted attention. It also isn’t new information. When we read information we screen for what is noteworthy or different. Maybe, instead of worrying about something being different than our norm, we could focus on what is quite nice, such as our co-worker is in a committed relationship with someone. In my instance, the co-worker is living with a man who I actually know slightly, and I like his parents. I would be more worried about my co-worker disclosing his personal information on voluntary insurance and other matters that people like to keep private. Otherwise, I think it is quite healthy to be able to admit you are a whole person and you can introduce your significant other. I do all the time!
Tonight, my co-worker’s disclosure made me dwell on all the types of prejudices we live with daily. It is common for East Coasters to be stereotyped as goofy, less intelligent and more awkward than the rest of the country’s folk. I grew up expecting to be mocked by people who visited us or by those who we visited. I remember exaggerating my accent and using ridiculous phrases just to satisfy their desire to be right about people who lived on the East Coast.
My maiden name happens to originate from Ireland. My name means one who is dun coloured. Apparently my ancestors were dark in complexion, something I am not. I often wonder about who my ancestors were to have been given that name. I only have been able to trace back as far as the mid-1800s and nothing stands out as particularly interesting. I hope to link our name to the Claddagh Tribe of Galway, but I am merely romanticizing now.
My father was of a dark complexion, most people thought he was attractive! During the second world war, he bought suits for university at a clothing store owned by a man of Jewish faith. The store owner had whispered to my father as he rang in the price on the register, “less 10% for being a student and 10% for being one of us!” The owner would not have recognized my father, as he was from another country, but he believed my father to be Jewish. He gave Dad a discount, a gesture which my father was appreciative of until the day he died. It doesn’t matter if the owner was just being kind to a young man of very meagre means or if he made a judgment that my father looked Jewish. It was kindness, at time when everyone lived in fear.
I hope that my Grandson grows up not knowing there is a difference in the colour of skin, hair or eyes. I want it to be irrelevant. We will always bring our upbringing with us and I am hopeful that my children and grandchildren will accept differences with enthusiasm and seek out diversity. I hope they eat all kinds of spices and can smell of cloves one day, garlic the next and curry the day after that! I hope that identity as LGBTQ is part of their world but not apart from their world. I also want them to find opportunities based on their skills and interest and not by stereotype. I don’t want them to have a future workplace that needs to identify people by group in order to assist with gender or sexual orientation issues, because in the future I hope there won’t be any of those issues.
I know many eloquent writers have expressed these views a lot better than I have. I am just fed up with the slow pace of change. I do care about who a person is, I am interested. I just wish all of us could be more interested in who people are and not sidetracked by basic differences.