Racism, Sexism, and Religious Prejudices: Seek and Ye Shall Find

 

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Photo by SteveTookIt  ***I liked this photo, especially in its largest format, because the snowflakes were so unique and amazing. Or did you see the thorns first?***

Looking for racists, chauvinist pigs, and people who hate you for the God you worship? Then I promise you, you’ll find them all…and more than you ever imagined. You will draw the prejudices to you, attract them, like ants to your picnic. You will create them out of thin air. 

One thing I’ve heard repeatedly among Law of Attraction gurus and followers is that if you focus on something, that’s what you’ll get, though they’re not usually talking about focusing on prejudice against you. The older form of this lesson was drilled into me in Baptist Sunday School as a child: seek and ye shall find.

That’s exactly why I’ve made some changes in how I see myself as a practicing Wiccan who has, many times, been the target of religious prejudice–and I’ve changed my experience for the better.  Here’s why:

Varying viewpoints:

I saw a movie over the weekend. I enjoyed it very much, even though it wasn’t about single moms of Scottish and Native American descent who dance around bonfires eight times a year (that would be me). I didn’t have much in common at all with any of the characters and the story was mere escapist fantasy, but still, I really enjoyed the movie.

To my surprise, some of my colleagues told me they found it incredibly racist. Huh? Did we see the same movie? An African-American coworker thought the African-American character should have been 100% heroic instead of showing a human side at the end that made him, in my opinion, such a richly complex character and far more interesting than the white-boy hero. The Asian colleague claimed the Asian characters were all stereotypes and that the protagonist was white and therefore it was racist. Meanwhile, a feminist friend thought the female characters should have been more aggressive so the movie was sexist. And on it went. 

I couldn’t understand my colleagues’ narrow viewpoints, but then, none of them understand why I used to get upset with stupid movies about homicidal witches they all thought were loads of fun.  We have all been very defensive where we felt represented in a demeaning manner, especially when we expected to find it.Flying By Night novel

Seeking what you fear:

Each brought something about himself or herself to the movie, and they expected to find those things presented less than favorably. Then again, we all do that to ourselves in the movies of our own lives.

For instance, I had a date a few nights ago with someone I wasn’t extremely excited about but he was interesting enough to give it a shot. I knew within the first three minutes that we really didn’t have any chemistry but there was a friendship possibility. Within 15 minutes, the date fizzled. We both silently and politely rejected each other, but damn it, it did actually bother me the next day. Like most people, I want to know why I was rejected even if, well, even if they’re idiots for rejecting me. I went through that long mental list we all go through when someone rejects us or some part of us. I figured it probably wasn’t because I’m white or because I’m a girl, but after that?

Was I dressed too feminine in that short blue dress with the cute heels? Did he think I was too old for him? Did he think I was fat? Did he not like my….oh, you get the picture. I stopped myself rather than invest time on someone who didn’t interest me, but my mind immediately jumped to whether his quiet prejudices might be about my body or the way I express myself with my looks. As it turns out, I didn’t take the hint about my being “too well-read” and he didn’t understand half of what I’d said, even though he’d brought up his interest in mythology and ancient history. I suppose that shows what he brought to the dating table: he hadn’t graduated from college and he expected to be denigrated by someone with more education. He’s the second guy I’ve been out with in a year who’s talked way too much about how people with degrees think they’re so much better than he is, even before asking my background.

Since then, I heard about a motorcycle accident that claimed the life of the rider.  The motorcycle riders in the room with me immediately guessed that the pickup truck driver intentionally ran the bike over out of hatred while the non-bikers assumed the motorcyclist was some young thug without a helmet and a penchant for racing.  I was dumbfounded by how everyone looked for facts to support their own prejudices or fears of prejudice.  Within a few minutes, more news came, and they were all wrong, all of them.  By then, they were all too far down the road of their own viewpoints to even notice what eyewitnesses all agreed on.   They had brought their own experiences with bikers to the room and nothing factual was going to change that.

Seeing what you expect:

It would be amusing if it weren’t so sad to watch people misinterpret events and motivations based on the prejudices they expect to see. I’ll give three examples that have stuck with me, and each time, the “prejudice” others saw surprised me.

–While talking to a female coworker and her mother, the coworker mentioned she’d been passed over for a promotion. Her mother, who’d been a “women’s libber” in the 1970’s before “feminist” became the more upscale terminology, immediately assumed the daughter hadn’t been promoted because she was female. The daughter tried to explain that to get the promotion, she needed a Master’s Degree. Her mom insisted, “If you were a man, it wouldn’t matter.” Never mind that the person who got the promotion was a woman with a Master’s Degree and the hiring official had been a woman as well, my coworker’s mother could see only through the lens of sexism and expected the worst. Every time I see the older woman, she tells me of something negative that happened that day because of sexism when I can think of a dozen other reasons that are far more likely.

–Two coworkers of mine were standing in the middle of the hall outside the women’s restroom when I walked into the middle of their fight. Their voices were tense already and steadily escalated until these two normally rationale people had to be separated by bystanders. I knew both quite well, but they didn’t know each other well at all. He was a white man in his mid-fifties, obnoxiously finicky and perpetually overstressed, and worked for Contract Management. She was an African-American woman in her early forties, sweet and friendly demeanor, and worked for Financial Management.

Their yell-fest started when she asked him if he was having a good day. He wasn’t. People from her office were having their carpet cleaned and they had to store some furniture in his work area overnight, with his permission. Not a problem except that the carpet cleaner had postponed the job for a day and he couldn’t get to his work area when he had piles of files that wouldn’t wait. She was a manager in her office, just walking into the building, but had no idea what had happened. So in answer to her innocent, “Hey, there, are you having a glorious day today?” he responded with, “No, I am NOT having a glorious day. I am sick and tired of YOUR PEOPLE trying take over this place!” To which her eyes widened like saucers and she started threatening loudly to go to the Equal Opportunity Office and how she wasn’t going to put up with his racist crap. If you’ve ever seen the fur stand up on a cat when it arches its back in anger, that’s exactly the vibe I saw. He, on the other hand, reminded me of my puppy when I sing—he turned his head sideways, not understanding anything coming out of her mouth.

YOUR PEOPLE was a typical phrase when supervisors in Contract Management were talking about the employees of another supervisor in Contract Management, and those of us who worked with him every day heard him use it all the time in reference to the personnel in different offices. That fight broke me of that habit of telling any supervisor, “Your people did a fantastic job!” or even joking about how “I’ll have my people call your people to set up an appointment.”

–I went shopping with a pagan friend not long ago. We both wore Goddess jewelry, but everywhere we went, something negative happened that she blamed on religious prejudice. Even though I was right next to her and had no problems with the sales assistants, she constantly had issues.

“She shorted me $2.00 when she gave me change. She had it in for me because I’m pagan.” Or… “He put mustard on my burger. He messed up my order. He’s just giving me a hard time because of the pentacle I’m wearing.”

Most of our personal conversations revolved around all the times she’d been discriminated against that day because of her religion. It was all she focused on. It was to the point where she seemed to beg it to come her, as sure as if she’d had a tattoo on her forehead that said PLEASE HATE ME CUZ I’M DIFFERENT. I could park next to her car, with the pentagrams on my bumper sticker more prominent than on hers, and yet every time, she’d get the nastygram on her car, often from people who really did want to burn her at the stake. The last time, she got a threatening note that should have gone to the police and at the same time I had two Mormon missionaries approach me to ask why I believed what I did and to help them understand.

That made me wonder why we had such different experiences.

Choosing not to be a victim whenever possible:

Am I saying that racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice don’t exist? Not at all. Heavens! I grew up in South Georgia , where people I knew were against pretty much everything. I’ve been discriminated against, yes. For all sorts of reasons, and some openly and some not. That’s the life we’ve created here. I’ve seen blatant examples of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice all over the country in my travels. I’ve seen people in physical danger because of their color, sex, and belief system. And I’ve seen the politically correct movement create monsters out of thin air.

But if we’re looking for examples of prejudice—especially examples of prejudice against some aspect of ourselves—then we’ll find them. Everything in our lives will be seen in that context. If we focus on division by race, sex, religion, etc, then the problem seems to magnify rather than fading away or being transformed into something new. We’re focusing on how we’re different, not how we’re alike.

Yes, I’m an idealist.  I like me that way.

I choose not to live my life as a victim of others’ prejudice, for as much as it is possible. This is a choice I’ve made for myself regarding my religion. Yes, there are still people who don’t understand my religious beliefs and disrespect me for them. But it’s simply not true of everyone. I’ve made a conscious effort NOT to expect prejudice and instead to give off that vibe that I’m open, honest, and happy to educate you on how my religion contributes to who I am. Does it work all the time? No. There will always be people who truly are prejudiced and there’s nothing you can say to change their minds and no matter how many laws you might pass, they’ll still discreetly hate you. But for all the people who aren’t prejudiced but simply don’t know or understand, it’s a wonderful opportunity to enlighten them, so that they know someone of my religion who’s a pretty good person, so it can’t be all bad, can it?

I want people who know me to question prejudices against people like me…BECAUSE they know me.

I want to seek and find a better place of understanding, of being open-minded and accepting of others as they are–and they of me, as I am. And for me, that begins with expecting others not to be as close-minded today as they were yesterday.