Let’s face it. I’m white. Yep, I’m a total Caucasian: German, English, a smattering of other European ethnicities, with a dash of American Indian just to make things interesting. I was raised in Arizona with Hispanic kids and Indian kids, Asian kids and white kids, and we were all just kids.
Prejudice has always been weird to me. My folks never said a racist word in our home; never indicated that anyone was less than or greater than anyone else because of the color of their skin. Hard work was our indicator of status and worth; didn’t matter what color you were. “He’s a hard worker and he never complains” was the greatest thing that could be said about you. My folks placed great value on kindness, integrity, faith, and honesty, and I’ve always judged people by those qualities.
I say all that because for date night this week, we double dated with my parents, who’ve been visiting with us. We went out to Cracker Barrel for dinner and then went to see “The Butler.” The next evening, we downloaded “42” from Amazon Prime and watched that.
Hubby and I had seen it before and enjoyed it so much we wanted to share it with my parents. Those people can act! And they were great stories.
It always shocks me to see prejudice played out on the big screen. As I stated above, prejudice is weird, and I don’t quite know how to deal with it. I feel great compassion and sympathy for the characters on the screen, so I guess that’s a sign of a good story. I’m infuriated by unfairness, and what’s more unfair than prejudice? To judge someone based on an arbitrary physical characteristic is just idiotic.
But I’ve encountered prejudice all the time since I moved to Virginia. We’re not in Arizona anymore, Toto. Oddly enough, over half the time it’s directed at me. If I ask someone to please silence their cell phone in the library and point to the “No Cell Phones” sign right in front of them, I am accused of being a racist. If I ask a mother to stop her child from throwing books on the floor and using them to slide on, I’m accused of being a racist. If I ask someone not to leave their small child alone in the children’s section while they attend a meeting in the meeting room, I’m accused of being a racist. And it isn’t just me, it’s all of my co-workers. It seems to be a knee jerk reaction of some people to being asked to do something they’d rather not do.
Movies like “The Butler” and “42” help me to understand these sorts of reactions. When you’ve faced true racism and prejudice everywhere, surely you see it even when it is not intended. One of my former co-workers (who has since retired) was not allowed to enter the Richmond Public Library as a child because she is black. That stuns me! How dare they? Of course, I can seethe about this injustice, or be grateful that my co-worker can now walk into any building she darn well chooses. I’d rather be grateful for how far we’ve come than harbor anger over something that existed in the past. But if I had grown up facing continual prejudice? If I had been told my whole life that I was “less than” because of the color of my skin? I don’t know. It would be difficult NOT to see discrimination in every encounter.
I thank the people who made these movies because they help me to grow as a person. They help me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes . They help me to understand why some of my patrons accuse me of things that are not true. It won’t make it any easier for me, but perhaps it will make me more compassionate and kind when it happens.
My folks would be proud.