I'm not Prejudiced, But...I was in a Target in Memphis; I was traveling on business and I'd left behind some essentials. As I wandered through the aisles, I noticed that I was feeling nervous. I didn't know why. The Target was like the ones near my home, the neighborhood was of the same socio-economic strata that I live in, nobody treated me as anything but another customer and they seemed to treat all customers well. I was still nervous. I finally realized what it was: the customers and clerks, all the people in the store, were divided about equally black and white. I'm used to all one or the other. I relaxed and finished my transaction without incident, but I've been thinking about it ever since. I believe that no one who grew up in the United States in the last half of twentieth century can be entirely free of some kind of bigotry. Not the nasty church burning kind but the unconscious kind, the kind that raises it's head when you're in a store someplace and the demographic isn't what you are used to. The kind that makes you prefer to hire or promote a job candidate you can relate to. Don't get me wrong, we have made great strides in civil rights and I don't want to minimize those. I also don't want to minimize how far we are from real equality: if you are white, try painting yourself black, go through your normal day and watch the reactions. If you're black, ask yourself if you believed that Barack Obama could be elected president in your lifetime. So when this woman said, "I'm not prejudiced, but," I had a pretty good idea what was coming. And when I later told a group of predominately white friends how she started out, neither did they. It wasn't a racist statement, exactly, but it did assume a negative difference between groups. As I said, I don't see how anyone in our society can not be prejudiced. I don't think it comes from people trying to continue racism; a lot of it is just unfamiliarity and a lot of it is our need to feel superior to somebody. In other words just being human. I do wish people would not use the phrase, or better, start realizing how much unconscious prejudice they have. I could, I guess, translate it to something like, "I have subconscious prejudice, so...," but any of these alternatives might mean changing human nature. I could try to point out how prejudiced their opinion really was - I have on occasion, and the result at best was silence, and at worst blaming me. I like human beings most of the time and the rest I try to tolerate them, no matter how prejudiced.
23 Dec 2014; 23 Oct 2014
Copyright © 2014 Truck Smith