Hello on this overcast chilly morning. First, I’ll share some news today. Then I’ll relate the story of how I discovered I was prejudiced against people of color.
· Last Saturday, a fellow blogger, whom I greatly respect, posted a story linked to the following site: wolfirschhorn. You can find the original story there or a repeat of it on Melynda’s blog. I believe the story, which is an example of medical bias, is important for all of us because of its grave implications.
· Many of you have read comments by Fishducky on my blog. Here’s her comment on Melynda’s blog for the story I am encouraging you to read. She’s given me permission to quote it. “ . . . Should you be more eligible for any medical procedure if your IQ is 130 than if it was 120? If your hair is curly rather than straight? If you still have all your limbs or if you had to have one amputated? If you skin happens to be white instead of brown, yellow, or red?”
· If you look to the right you’ll see the cover of The Golden Sky by EC Stilson. Elisa and I have become friends and it is an honor for me to promote her memoir. It speaks to anyone who has ever loved a child. This poignant story, fierce in its honesty, also relates what happens to parents when a child dies. Ultimately, The Golden Sky is a memoir of courage and renewal. It speaks to all of us who embrace the possibility of becoming fully human.
(Continued from Saturday . . . )
The story of my prejudice:
After leaving the convent, I worked for a publishing firm in Dayton and then at an all-girls Catholic high school. In May of 1968, while walking home after school, I saw a man standing at the corner mailbox. It was a rectangular box on a pillar. The letter slot at the top was long and narrow. Inserting a legal sized letter by its short width, not its long length, was always easier.
I searched and searched for a photograph
of a US Postal Service letter box from the 1960s.
This is as close as I could get, but it doesn’t have the slot.
The man was trying to insert his letter by the long length. It kept getting caught at the side of the slot. Immediately, a jumble of thoughts skittered through my mind: He needs help. He doesn’t know that you have to insert the skinny end.
Behind these thoughts lay another layer of nebulous feelings: That poor black man can’t figure out how to do that. I know and I’ll show him how.
At that moment, the man deftly inserted the narrow side into the letterbox slot and ambled away. I stood stunned, having suddenly realized that I thought he was “slow on the uptake” because he was black. The realization stupefied me because I thought I considered all human beings equal and didn’t notice color.
And yet I’d thought that thought. I couldn’t get away from my own bias. I’d based my opinion of the man’s capabilities on the color of his skin. Where had that prejudice come from?
Perhaps no white person raised in Missouri between 1936, when I was born, and 1958, when I went away to the convent, was immune to such thoughts. I don’t know. I do remember—rather vividly—that I was aware of the words Amos and Andy as I stood there looking at the letterbox.
As a child, I’d listened to the radio program Amos and Andy. Two white actors played the roles of two black men. Amos was hard working and bright. Andy was gullible and, I’d always thought, just a little slow in understanding Amos’s plans for solving any problem that came along.
So the thought behind the thought behind the thought—the miasma of racism lurking within—was that blacks were not as intelligent as whites. Never mind that Amos had been extraordinarily bright and creative. I clearly based all black men on Andy.
The next day, I called the Dayton school district and applied for a job in an inner-city public school. I wanted to teach black students so that I might rid myself of the rottenness within my thoughts. I’d never taught any black students or lived among any black families. I needed to be among blacks.
I wanted those students to help me rid myself of bias. I didn’t stop to think that my prejudice might influence my teaching and harm the students. I was thinking only of myself and my need to let go of bigotry.
In Thursday’s posting I’ll relate to you what happened in that classroom.
(Continued on Thursday . . . )
Photograph from Wikepedia.