Free your mind….(click here if you want to get that song out of your head by watching the awesome YouTube video…En Vogue! Woot!)
Well, if you’ve looked at your Facebook feed at all or been listening to the news in the last couple days, you will have realized that Paula Dean got herself into trouble. At some point (perhaps many points) she said the “n” word and then her response was that everyone says it from time to time. Side note: I’ve only said it when quoting people or songs, but even then don’t really even say it, because it scares the crap out of me.
This morning I watched a video from the Huffington Post saying that she defended slavery in 2012. You can click here to watch it.
She is obviously prejudiced but I thought what she said about her grandfather committing suicide after adjusting to a life where he son was killed in the Civil War and he lost all his “workers” was less prejudiced and more truthful and sad. I’m sure she said “workers” because, even for someone from the South, “slaves” is a hard word to say without cringing.
Moving from NJ to the South, I’ve seen loads of racism in both spots. It is also true that everyone has prejudices. I realized that when I came to the South. My dad told me before I left, “Now, remember. People are slower down there.” And, he didn’t just mean driving. I moved to the South thinking people were going to be stupider than me. I also thought everyone white would hate black people. Well, I was wrong. Loads of people are smarter than me, even the ones with the thickest accents! (I think this prejudice may have came from TV/movies where people with thick accents are perceived as uneducated and crazy). I mean, I heard the “n” word way more than up North, but the longer I live down here, the more I realize that everybody has prejudices.
One thing that I have recognized in myself is that my biggest prejudice is against prejudiced people. This means that when I see stuff like this Paula Dean fiasco, I have an automatic reaction to want to hate her. But, I have also learned that I need to take a step back and see things from her perspective. She is an older lady that’s been in the South since back when they used to have separate water fountains and separate schools and separate restaurants for white people and “colored people.” Because of this history and probably due to some parenting, she sees herself as separate from people of different races. She prejudges that people of a different color will different, perhaps even less, than her. She probably doesn’t do it on purpose, because she’s been taught that way and it’s been so long, it’s automatic. But, that doesn’t make it right.
What I have learned about change through years of being a counselor (and a human being) is that you can’t force people to change, they have to decide to change on their own. Sometimes life events (like getting fired from your job or getting into legal trouble) can give you that pressure to want to make some changes, but sometimes it doesn’t.
Now, right now (like I did), you might have had that automatic thought, “She ain’t gonna change.” You might have also had angry thoughts thinking about her using the “n” word. You might have that superiority feeling because you don’t use it. Let me tell you this. It doesn’t mean you still aren’t just like her. You are prejudiced. I am prejudiced. We are all prejudiced. Again, that doesn’t make it right.
What I am challenging you (and myself, as well) is to examine your own prejudices. If you need a bit of guidance, here’s a cool article about hidden bias and a link to a test about your hidden biases. Then you need to step back and accept those prejudices that you have and, when you are ready, take steps to change this.
What kind of steps? Well, I’m no expert, but I have decreased my prejudice against the South by living here and talking with people and listening to them with an open mind. My personal belief is that a lot of prejudice comes from fear of the unknown. So, if you are ready to decrease and hopefully one day overcome your prejudice, start by learning more about the people, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, culture, or language that you have a prejudiced reaction to. And remember, people are people. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my short years on Earth, it’s that if I look and listen hard enough, I can see not only the differences that make them who they are, but I can also find things in common that can help me connect with them.
Prejudice separates us. Connections bring us together.