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
** Kathryn Stockett, The Help, 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, pp 418 and 451.