WHY DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS OVER AND OVER?: Exploring The Roots of Prejudice

Whether we know it or not . . . whether we want to know it or not . . . we all have currents of prejudice within our psyches. Although many think of their prejudices as simply “the truth,” others realize that there are some major roots to our prejudice . . . roots that need to be named, known, and worked with.

One of the roots of our prejudices is . . . we are taught to be prejudiced by the active teachings of those with whom we grow up, and also by their modeling. This is poignantly expressed in the song “Carefully Taught” from the Broadway show and the movie, “South Pacific.”

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught”*

A less well known and understood root of prejudice is . . . most people are afraid of the dark. The literal dark in the outer world of night and winter – so easily seen by the number of lights we keep on 24 hours a day 365 days a year. But not just the literal dark or the dark in the outer world.  We are afraid of the dark in our inner worlds – the dark unknown within where we are afraid we’ll discover terrible dark things about ourselves. And the dark in our inner worlds that we have come to symbolize as “evil.” This fear of the dark has caused all sorts of problems in our world, including transferring our fear and our symbolic meaning onto people with dark skin.

If we would only heal our fear of the darkness, particularly the darkness within, we could work through and heal our feelings about our own darkness and the destructive aspects of our own personalities, and clearly see people with dark skin as unique people rather than symbolic expressions of our own inner “darkness.”

And the root of prejudice of which people seem to be the least aware is based on the most primal experiences from our childhoods. Those experiences in our earliest years when we are hurt or frightened by ‘the other,’ meaning, in essence, anyone who is not us. Those first fears of ‘the other’ later get transferred onto many other people and things. So, for example, fear of  mother or father can later be transferred onto someone of a different race, religion, sex, nationality . . .  without our having any awareness whatsoever of that occurring.

There’s a wonderful line in the 2009 book, The Help, a book about “black maids” working for white women in Mississippi. It’s actually a line dear to the author, Kathryn Stockett, and one that speaks to the heart of the issue:  “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”**

These are three of the deep roots of prejudice in our psyches and our world.
We will be prejudiced, whether consciously or unconsciously, and somehow, whether ever-so-subtly or absolutely blatantly, we will act on our prejudices . . . until we each commit to explore and heal the prejudices that live within us.
We will do this over and over until each of us does our own individual inner work with prejudice.
Where does your fear of those who are different from you come from?
It is a deep choice:  Are you willing to explore and heal your fear of “the other” and in doing so, help to heal prejudice in yourself and our world?

(c) Judith Barr, 2011

* © Oscar Hammerstein II, 1949
http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/southpacific/youvegottobecarefullytaught.htm
** Kathryn Stockett, The Help, 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, pp 418 and 451.

WE HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN FROM SUSAN BOYLE

Less than a week ago – on Tuesday, April 14 – we learned about Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent.
So much has occurred since then.*

But I want to say some things at the heart of the matter.

It’s time for truth telling . . .

First . . . how many people rolled their eyes, made faces with their mouths, judged, disrespected, mocked Susan?
Did you?
How many people are blinded by appearance, whether that appearance is one of exquisite beauty or the opposite end of the spectrum?
Are you?
How many people were blind to the human being, the heart and the unique soul beneath the outer appearance?
Were you?
How many people would have stayed in that very same position, if Susan had not sung like an angel?
Would you have?

Second . . . let’s look at it from Susan’s perspective.
How was she able to stay grounded in herself, her realness, and her gift in the face of such ridicule? Most people fear to be themselves, for fear they will be responded to by that kind of mockery . . . and so instead, they hide themselves.
Do you?

Susan didn’t collapse into a defense in response to people’s contempt. How did she do that? In the face of such contempt . . . most people collapse into a defense, created long ago in their childhoods in an attempt to protect the gift that they are.
In the face of such derision, would you collapse into a defense?

Susan watched and heard people’s scorn, but didn’t give up herself and her gift.  She kept being and giving the gift that she is. In the face of such scorn. . . most people do give themselves up.
In the face of such derision, would you give up yourself and your gift . . . the gift that you are?

Third . . . back to the contempt.
Contempt is a defense against our own vulnerable feelings. If you were contemptuous of Susan . . . without being aware of it,  you were defending yourself against your own feelings about putting yourself out there . . . revealing yourself undefendedly to others. You were defending yourself against the pain you have felt – the earliest of which was probably in your early childhood – when you were real, undefended, vulnerable, and could be nothing else.
Can you allow yourself to find the truth of that for you?

This may not seem political, but it most definitely is. It’s political for us as citizens. And it’s political for us as potential leaders.
The more contemptuous we are . . . the more we defend against our authentic selves and the more we misuse our power in relation to others’ authentic selves. The less we are able to stay grounded in ourselves and our realness . . . the less we are able to fully participate in healing and re-creating our world.

The more we collapse into our defenses . . . the more vulnerable we are to being programmed and controlled, instead of being vital contributing members of our society, and vital leaders as well. The more we give up the gifts we have to offer and the gift of ourselves . . . the less we have to offer to our world.

Caution:  Given the wounds that have caused us to fear being ourselves, to collapse into our defenses, to give up ourselves and our gifts as supposed protection against judgment, ridicule and scorn . . . The work of healing this does not happen overnight. Our quick fix, put-a-bandaid-on-it society prevents the real healing and perpetuates the wounds.

The healing does not happen by willing it. It does not happen by burying once again our vulnerable feelings and trying to rise above them. It does not happen by managing and controlling our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we try to heal that way, we will only feed the wounds, the defenses, and the coping mechanisms we have carried with us into this day, causing them to persist and perhaps become even more tenacious. The wounds need to be healed to the root with patience, compassion, commitment, and great truth and love.

*On the one hand, word of Susan Boyle’s entire experience on Britain’s Got Talent, has spread all over the world. On the other hand, many are suspicious about the circumstances, whispering and blogging that it was planned … wondering aloud why her hair wasn’t coiffed and why she wasn’t dressed more fashionably.

For the purposes of this post, the most important thing is not what actually happened, but rather what we can learn about ourselves. That is true, even if the whole thing was planned, because if it was, the plan must have calculated what is true about our human nature.

My invitation: See what you can learn for yourself from the post.

(c) Judith Barr, 2009