At work, we went to a “cultural diversity” event where they showed a film from the 1964 race riots. A co-worker asked me if I remembered anything about these riots in the news from when I was little. I smacked her upside the head since I wasn’t born until 1966. Hellooo?? What the heck was she thinking???
Anyway -the film was very interesting. It not only talked about the actual riots, but the build up to them.. and the aftermath. Lot’s of real life news clips… and personal testimonies. Very cool.
Afterward, I opted to go to a discussion group which was really more of a listening group. There were some old-timers there, who were actually at the NY riots in July 1964. They told personal stories and memories of the events. One was a minister, who personally knew Martin Luther King, and actually had Malcom X stay with him in his home for a few days shortly before he was assassinated.
I listened in awe. This was amazing history… right here in front of me. I felt like I was listening to my grandfather or something, and I was soaking it all up. Except, I’m white… so… I guess it’s not quite like listening to my grandfather – and I’m sure they weren’t looking at me like I could relate. I really can’t… but, I want to. I want to understand… but, I can see why my black co-workers tell me I can’t really understand.
Matter of fact, I’m sorry to say that my own grandfather was pretty prejudice. My grandmother also… but, she preferred to waste her hatred on anyone Oriental. She actually refused to drink tea, because it came from China.. ??? And, this was all because her other son, my uncle that I never met, fought in the Korean war. Somehow, these negative feelings towards Koreans – carried over to all Oriental people – and to Tea… and then across the board for any other races or people that were “different”. This never made sense to me. Not when I was a young girl… or as an adult…. but, when I was a child, I figured she had good reason for feeling this way. I mean, she was my grandmother, and in all other aspects… a sweet old lady that loved me to death.
To me, it’s a clear example of how easily people can create, hang on to, and pass down prejudices. Sad really.
I remember arguing with my parents when I was young… I accused them of being prejudice – just like my grandparents… they denied this in one breath, and would then tell me in the next breath why they didn’t want too many black people to move in our neighborhood. They totally believed what they were saying. Luckily, I was at my rebellious age, and I didn’t believe them. I totally couldn’t understand how they could say such things… (and yes, “they” as in both my parents… the religious nut AND the atheist.)
All this, made me think, though. I mean, here you have good people… believing bad things… sometimes, for no other reason than that is what they are taught. It’s a terrible cycle. But, how is this different than people who are religious fanatics, who bring up their kids to believe the same fearful, often hateful and judgemental, thoughts? And, how do you stop it from continuing?
Someone needs to break the cycle. A lot of someones need to break many cycles. How does we go about doing that?
Well? What was it that made me question my own parents and grandparents about being prejudice? I know what it was. It was when I was a teenager, and in high school, and we started learning more about real life history. It didn’t take much for a child to realize that slavery was wrong, etc. And, I think, once you appeal to someones basic humanity and intellect – they can’t help but start questioning beliefs that just don’t hold water.
This is why I think our public schools SHOULD teach religion… but, they should teach about ALL religions… dating right back to the Greek gods, etc. Let some of these kids who have only heard about one religion, or had it jammed down their throat since they were babies hear some facts. I’m not talking about trying to convert anyone, or deconvert… they don’t have to say what is “right” or “wrong”… just give them some basic facts. After that, they can decide for themselves if what they believe is because it makes sense to them, and they truly believe it.. or is it only because it’s what they were handed on their plate, along with a big cup of fear to wash it down?
In the end…. it’s all about living and LEARNING. Education, is the only way to break cycles. I use to think you learned FROM what you were living… Of course, this is true. However, it’s also the “learning” that truly allows us to live well.
PS – now I have the sudden urge to go take a night class or something… =)