On my bulletin board in my office is a bumper sticker created by Peacemonger.org. It displays one word in white letters on a purple background. It says: Coexist. The C is the Islamic crescent moon and star; the O is a peace symbol; the E contains the symbols for male and female; the X is the six-pointed Star of David; the I is capped with a pentacle; the S is a yin-yang symbol; and the T is a cross. Whether it be religion, gender, or ethnicity, the point is clear – why can’t we be tolerant of one another?
We are all different. There are no two people who ever lived or ever will live that are completely identical. Identical twins come the closest, but even they have their differences. Why is it so hard for us to accept those who are different from ourselves?
I live in the Deep South. I use that term for one reason – it effectively defines the majority of the people with whom I deal on a daily basis. They are intolerant of racial differences, religious differences, sexuality differences, gender differences, cultural differences, ethnic differences, and even socio-economic differences. I am sure to encounter at least one display of prejudice or discrimination every day that comes. As much as I love the South with all its beauty and tradition, it pains me to admit that it is backward in so many ways.
But the South is not the only area of our nation that is prone to discrimination and prejudice. You can travel to any part of this country and find discrimination in one form or another – it just depends upon who is the “minority” group in the area viewed.
My youngest daughter is very tolerant of others, with the exception of what she terms to be “stupid people.” These are the people who wear their prejudice for the entire world to see. For the prom, one of our neighbors did her hair in a “twist.” For those of you who don’t know what that is, it looks like cornrows, but instead of braiding the hair, it is tightly twisted. Since it takes a lot of work to do, she has worn her hair like this all week. She was walking down the hall between classes when she was stopped by an adult (we don’t know if she was an administrator, a substitute teacher or a parent who was in for a visit) who asked her, “Is that gang related?” My daughter, very confused, asked, “Is what gang related?” “Your hair,” the woman replied. My daughter was stunned. “No,” she replied. “Why would you think that?” The woman very sternly told her, “White girls do NOT wear their hair like that!”
It doesn’t matter what color your skin, what religion you practice, the culture from which you originate, what sexuality or gender you profess, you are subject to the possibility of discrimination. I have been discriminated against because I am a single mother, because I have been over-weight, because I am Caucasian, and because I am not blessed financially. (Let’s face it – as a single parent, money is precious!) Why do we do this to ourselves and others?
There are two things that I firmly believe parents need to do to help their children overcome the barriers of prejudice. First, they have to set a good example. They have to hold their heads high regardless of prejudice that may be leveled at them and they need to be sure that they not return acts of prejudice in kind. They should work to settle their own prejudicial feelings and strive for tolerance in any area where they exhibit intolerance. Second, they need to teach their children how to deal with prejudice without leveling prejudice in return.
This past summer I worked with a group of minority students on a college campus, assisting them in obtaining information to help them decide their academic futures. I was appalled when our students returned from dinner at a Mexican restaurant and I was told by several of the counselors that a group of our students had been making fun of the Mexican waiters because of their nationality. That this group whom I am sure has experienced prejudice themselves would then level prejudice at another minority group was very frustrating to me. I was of the mindset that since they knew what it was like to experience prejudice on the receiving end, they would not participate in doling it out. I was emphatically wrong.
There are many organizations that are attempting to spread a view of tolerance for the differences between people. I hope that parents – all parents – will take a moment to research a few and then spread this message to their children so we can stop this horrible cycle of prejudice. Prejudice is a nice word for what the treatment actually is; the attitude that is veiled by prejudice is plain and simple hate. Let us start the process of stopping the hate once and for all.