Thursday, June 28, 2007

You have to be taught how to hate

“You have to be taught how to hate by 6, or 7 or 8.” This is more than just a line from the musical “South Pacific” it is the rock solid truth. Today my work day started as the target of bigotry. On the way in to work I held the elevator for a few co-workers but one would not get on – he refuses to ride the elevator with me. Yet no one ever considers themselves a bigot, even when they are. Fewer still even consider the source of the bigotry.

Our order does elder care – round the clock 24/7. In particular we care for a woman who was born 85 years ago this month, and raised in the deep south. She hates policemen. You have but to ask her and she will tell you. It is also readily apparent when we take her anywhere. One day I asked mother superior why. It turns out that where and when she was raised policemen used to steal – and then find a young black man who couldn’t afford to defend himself and arrest him for the crime. Result? Young black men spent months and sometimes years in jail for crimes they never commited.

Now you may tell yourself, after you have done the math, that this has to be at least 70 years ago. Why then does she still hold such opinions today? Is it simply a grudge that has been held for 70 years? Perhaps that is part of it. More to the point, however, are people who reinforce the image. An example in this case is the Chicago Police officer who was arrested a number of years back for being a major drug lord in Chicago’s Humbolt Park area.

But incidents that encourage bigotry are not always so blatent. Just like not all policemen are bad, the reverse is sometimes held to be true. I had a co-worker who thought that bigots didn’t come in colors. I told her a story once. I told her how the man who used to be a chief legal counsel where I work took it upon himself one day to distribute an abstract of a law suit to every supervisor where I work. What was it about?

First, the individual concerned thought it applied to me, where it does not. Many of my co-workers have no idea what a hermaphrodite is. The abstract was about a pilot for TWA who was fired for having a sex change – no other reason. The judge in this case originally ruled that the equal employment opportunity act did not apply to this individual as a result. Now think about this for a moment. Why did this man distribute this abstract? He was trying to get every supervisor to believe that I was not protected by the equal employment opportunity act. The co-worker I told this to had a hard time believe it. She said, “He would never do that. He would understand about bigotry. He is a black man and has been treated that way himself.” My reply was simple. “Don’t you think that bigots come in colors?” The rest of the story, as a popular broadcaster used to say is this: The chief legal counsel left (to be a judge God help us all). What he did not know are sever aspects that applied here. The case was overturned on appeal and the pilot won so much money she founded an avionics firm with it. Me? Well simply put, my birth certificate says female on it thank you very much. My reply? I spoke to my State Senator about the issue, who in turn wrote to our office and spoke to them about it. No such issue ever arose again.

Now on the face of it, this might encourage me to hate people who are black, but it does not. Still the conduct of individuals on a daily basis encourages bigotry. Sometimes they are simple things – like the man who refused to ride an elevator with me (as he always does). Other examples? Individuals who refuse to speak to me because of who I am. Still others who refuse to speak to me UNLESS THEY NEED SOMETHING (and even then they usually send me email to spare them having to actually address me in person). People who are talking to others, laughing and talking – and then the smile runs away from their face as I pass by. Oh yes, I have spent a lifetime of watching smiles run away from faces.

In the end, people have to be taught how to hate, fortunately some people either refuse to learn the lesson or unlearn it later in life. But the bigotry is not always taught by parents. Sometimes it is both taught and reinforced by people in the world around us – people who sometimes think they are doing nothing wrong at all.

God be with you,

Sister Julie