Thoughts on Race…Prejudice…Social Conditioning

As news outlets and social media have been processing the verdict handed down to George Zimmerman, I’m sorely tempted to keep my voice quiet because, well, speaking out always gets feedback and my skin is relatively thin. I can’t be silent about this because it matters so much to me.  It matters because not only are these tensions very real between blacks and whites in America, they are equally present between, Conservatives and Liberals, Evangelical and Liberal Christians, Heterosexuals and homosexuals, bikers and non-bikers, old and young…clearly I could go on.

It seems really clear to me that in general, we each like OUR OWN people best and of course that makes sense. We’re born into the world where we are and it shapes who we become. We live in a world that is much larger and more complex than we really know how to handle very well. Crossing into another’s culture or thought paradigm in not as easy and we might at first think it is. Maybe we need to first and foremost give each other a little more empathy along the way so we’re not just yelling and screaming and can really find some answers that make sense.  It is grueling, tedious and hard work to try to see another from a worldview other than one’s own as I discovered moving from a place I’d lived in for most of my life.

The first move in 2005 (I was 44) took us into the heart of Mormon country, Utah. The community we chose to live in was 85% Latter Day Saint. My husband and I experienced first hand what it was like to be a minority and discovered very quickly that it is simply just difficult when two cultures collide.  It took a fair amount of conscious effort on our part to understand and accept our differences but we had a wonderful life there.

Our second move came five years later when we came to a small conservative town just on the edge of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  We did not expect a cultural collision because we are from Nebraska and the Midwest IS the Midwest, right? Well…not so much. There are similarities but oh.my.goodness. there are differences. It’s been three years and we are still trying to navigate the ins and outs of culture here.  It has taken no small effort and is still something I can’t quite master to the point of loving it here. I find myself forming stereotypes and opinions of the “others” just to cope with how different it is for me.

In light of my own experiences, I think of the Zimmerman/Martin situation in Florida and the fear on both sides based on years of social conditioning.  We all know that when a  young person wears his hood up in warm weather  (Living up north you discover that even warm and cold are relative concepts!) we feel a bit frightened. We’ve been conditioned to mistrust that one thing and expect that those doing it are “hoodlums” up to no good and everyone would agree that its worse at night. Some of this is purely human and we find that hard to admit. Being on one side or the other is much more soothing.

I will never carry a gun because I don’t ever want to deal with the mental anguish of having killed someone else. I can’t even imagine living in a neighborhood where I feel as if I have to hide from my neighbors or have someone on watch to keep it safe. I would imagine that there is a lot of tension in the air all of the time when that is the culture one lives in.  I hate it that a young black unarmed male was shot and I hate it that a man would feel so afraid that he’d have to carry a gun to feel safe and be on watch in the first place.  At the end of the day what will change this scenario seems to me to be our intent.

We have to figure out how to be less afraid of the “other” – and that includes Democrats and Republicans. We must intend to at least try to understand the reasons why the others are as they are instead of prejudging them based on who we are.  In this one situation, it is very easy to see it from a narrow, white, Midwest point of view for me, but thankfully many mentors have taught me over the years that there is a lot more to this than that. A lot more.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Race…Prejudice…Social Conditioning

  1. spot on Jane. I haven’t followed this as closely as I would have like to the past couple weeks but I long for more willingness among us to lean into someone’s story that is different from ours – especially the ones that make us uncomfortable.

  2. You always challenge my heart. I think I am learning and “progressing” and the I learn just how truly mixed my heart really is. I find myself feeling much angst and dislike of the ” other”. Especially I my own family tree. “those ignorant people” with those ignorant uninformed opinions!

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