At some point in each or our lives we have to ask ourselves – who am I? Social order forces the question. We cannot live a complete life without someone challenging at least one of our belief systems – and often our entire concept of proper culture. Prejudices must be examined and rethought – for no one lives a life immune to prejudice. Self examination should first clearly understand facts and the order of facts. I will use my life as an example. (Be careful as you read – check your own prejudices as you go).
I am a man; born to a returning World War II Veteran, a mother of the depression, and I with six siblings – one sister. Father attended school through the sixth grade. Mother graduated from high school. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Father marched across France and Germany fighting Nazism. Father worked two jobs, working 36 years for one company; Mother stayed home and managed the home. My oldest brother was born one year after the Japanese surrender. We lived in a lower income neighborhood, somewhat mixed in race. My childhood school was segregated from ‘those colored people.’ While boys climbed trees, girls played with dolls. The banker who loaned money for a mortgage was referred to as Mr. Klamm. Grandparents belonged to fringe religious faiths: Independent Baptist, 7th Day Adventist, Reorganized Latter Day Saints, and Pentecostal. Mother cleaned the house and cooked, Father fixed the flat tire on the car. All facts – so what prejudices might one expect from that life? What values are instilled? And when recognized, how might one change the prejudice?
Seriously – we are angered when we see prejudice – but does anyone really believe that we chose our prejudices with conscious thought of social order? There is an old Jesuit saying, “Give me the child and I will give you the man.” This idea seems to prove true. Morris Massey wrote about values development, essentially saying that by age twenty our values are locked in – ready to serve us through life. I believe he said that generally we will only consider changing a life value if confronted with a significant emotional event. The example I like is the homophobe whose son comes home one day to announce that he is Gay. The homophobe must choose – change his value system or lose any relationship with his son. Many laugh at this example – but for the father who is forced into self-examination the time is one of gut wrenching trauma. But consider this – the son had a pretty gut wrenching trauma of his own – acknowledging his sexual preference, coming out of the closet, and telling his homophobe father – whew, that would wear anyone out.
Again – we often have conflicting values but are not aware of them until they spring up like mushrooms after a warm rain. The Gay son coming home forces a choice between values. Our gut value systems are sometimes convoluted and cause us untold emotional grief because we do not have clarity.
Most of us do not have such harsh prejudice – we like to think of ourselves as being reasonable people. My Father, for example, once told me that he has no prejudice against black people – he said, “It is not their fault they were born black.” He was being genuinely serious. And he thought he was being gracious. Was he an evil racist? I don’t think so – and he did not want his children to be racist. Actually, my father’s position was much more tolerant than that of his father. During World War Two my father fought beside black men – war is an obvious gut wrenching trauma of significant emotional event.
My own observations about myself continue to this day. The first real challenge presented to me was in the form of accusations of being chauvinistic – over forty years ago. I married at age twenty and we began our family. I worked, and my wife stayed home to manage the house and raise the children. Her sisters, caught up in the woman’s movement of that time, found an easy target in me. I might have bought their accusations – but I also possessed a heavy dose of male pride. (Is pride different for men than women? Why did I say ‘male’ pride?). So I fought the idea that I might be prejudiced against women – and I told my wife how she should think about the subject. So there. Case closed. Actually, I have struggled with the idea of gender prejudice all of my life – usually only becoming aware of myself when confronted in clear and forceful terms by some hair-brained dingbat woman. (I sincerely hope the reader is getting the sarcastic attempts at humor).
Given my upbringing one might understand how I developed some chauvinistic attitudes. Understanding is not the same as condoning or forgiving. Forgiveness comes after one willingly acknowledges the prejudice and sincerely attempts to change. But my upbringing also taught some other values: Loyalty to employer (my father worked for the same company for 36 years); Hard core religious beliefs (my family was one of radical fringe Christianity); racial segregation; love of country – and hatred for perceived enemies (My father never got over his hatred for ‘Japs’ and Nazis); economic class distinction with inherent prejudice – both for the haves and the have nots).
These are just the glaring prejudices that have caused me great grief in my life. As a young man I lucked into a professional career – a career dominated by men. I worked with older men who had firm beliefs in the capacity of women. I remember one of my colleagues talking about his forty year old wife taking some classes at the local community college. Their children were growing up and she was seeking a career as a secretary to some as yet unknown male boss. My colleague was laughing at how ‘cute’ his wife was as she struggled to learn typing. Other men in the room laughed along – I clearly remember how condescending these men were. But I struggled with this because these men legitimately loved their wives, in spite of their female limitations. They were not trying to be mean or prejudiced – and if anyone else said a bad word about their wife there would have been a fight for sure.
So what is the point of this post? Here it is – how many of you readers felt some kinship with any of the mentioned prejudices? And more importantly, how many of you felt angry at some to the prejudiced people mentioned? How about that homophobe – how did you feel about him? How about my father’s weak attempt at not being racist – how did you feel about him? How about my chauvinism – did you feel angry with me? Because it comes down to this – hating the hater is the ultimate irony.
I totally resisted my sisters-in-law who tried to convict me of the crime of chauvinism. They hated me and I hated them right back – each of us confident that we won the battle of ideology. If a black man calls me a racist I want to punch him in the face – for that is my right as a white man – or something like that. Women who are passed over for promotion should not whine about it – because whining is feminine and promotes chauvinism – it is their fault that we are chauvinists in the first place.
I am going to close this post and write another – I am completely lost in the mutually exclusive idea of hating the hater. Help me out – something is out of whack.
The only thing I am certain of is that I continue my life with prejudices that I am not aware of. They only rise to the surface for examination when someone confronts me – and then my pride kicks in – and there we go again.
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