Bias, Stereotypes, Prejudice, Racism, Hatred – Part 1

I titled this blog the good bad and ugly because I believe the only time real change can occur is when we analyze all aspects of an issue.  I delayed discussing this in December because that is my happy time – wonderful time of the year.  However, the recent event in Arizona with Rep. Giffords reminded me that I need to get back on course with purpose of the blog. Most of the time, we tend to focus on what is most advantageous to our argument or belief systems – our best side. I say that there are three sides to every story – his story, her story and somewhere in the middle lies the truth. As in therapy, there can be no break through until you analyze the dirty under belly –things that we’d rather forget or pretend don’t exist. 
What currently insists on truth is disproved, because Lie or her younger sister, Deception, often hands over only the most acceptable part of a memory, the part that sounds plausible on paper. – Gunter Grass
We will continue to have a problem in this country with racism because we’d like to pretend that with the passage of time, it simply went away.  Like an addict, the first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem.  You have to go to the roots/beginnings of the problem in order to come full circle to present day.  That is why therapist start off with what happened to you as a child because an addicted or broken adult did not become that way upon turning 18.  It is something deep rooted that shaped those events.
For those that have expressed pleasure in reading my blog, thank you.  However, as we start to delve into the under belly issues, I hope that you will listen with an open ear.  I am open to comments, but let us avoid party politics and talking points that have divided this nation.  We must be honest with ourselves.  I have met few people that are truly color-blind when it comes to other people/races.  Those individuals fascinate me.  That is a precious gift to see humanity and not color. 
Most of us, yes me, have biases, stereotypes that we have bought into.  The problem arises when we take those biases and stereotypes to the next level of prejudice, racism and hatred.  I have found there are three ways to know a culture: (1) learn the language; (2) the music; and (3) the food.  In traveling abroad, I noticed that even if you don’t speak the language, one thing is universal: communing at the dinner table.  At the communal table, you find that despite language barriers, we are more similar than different.  I noticed that most cultures have a version of soul/comfort food.  I connect with that type of cooking – it speaks to me.  Mainly because it is the cooking of people who went without because of oppression and they had to do the best with the scraps left.  French cuisine that people love the most, was originally peasant food.  I like rustic simple dishes.  They have stories behind them.
Stereotypes, racism and hatred are learned.  Children do not come out the womb racist.  That is taught.  In high school,  I worked at a drop off babysitting center.  A four year old came up  to me and said, “you are brown, why are you brown?”  I told him that God likes all the colors in the crayon box so he decided to make me brown.  The kid said, “okay I like brown people.” 
I am not old, although I am an old soul.  However, my first memory of racism to me happened at 8.  My family traveled south one summer in the early 80s. Back then my dad had a “stankin’ lincoln” lingo for a superbad ride.  It was a gold Lincoln Continental.  I liked it because it looked like the car in the “Richie Richie” cartoon, so my sister and I called the car “goldie gold.” I knew racism existed.  My grandparents were raised in the south.  I heard stories.  Although I lived in the city, covert racism happens but nothing in your face.  As we traveled south, the usual happened.  My dad hadn’t been in the area for a few years and couldn’t remember the exact direction to the relative’s house.  My mom, like most wives, pleaded for him to stop and get directions.  After much nagging by my mom and driving in circles by my father, he relented and pulled into a gas station. 

I thought the gas station was curious.  There was an old white man sitting out front in a rocking chair smoking a pipe – like Pa Kettle.  I couldn’t believe it.  Dad went inside for directions and came back to the car.  Just as we were about to pull off, we noticed the “Pa Kettle” figure mosey over to us.  Yes, he moseyed over.  Dad had the window down and “Pa Kettle” said, “where you say you goin’ and who be yo’ people?”  I couldn’t believe the accent. I heard in movies but now live and in person.  I was tickled.  My dad told him where he wanted to go and who our people were.  The old man said, “I kno yo’ people.  Des good folk. Dey not 5 minutes from here.  Don’t go the way they told you in the station.  Klan will be on da’ road.”  When he finished the sentence I was dumbfounded.  I knew what the Klan was.  I could not understand why people that never met me or knew me as a person desired to kill me for the color of my skin.  I was only 8,what threat did I pose to them?  There was me, my mom, dad and two sisters in that car.  They would harm a family for no reason.  The old man told my dad exactly how to get to our relatives and he was right, less than five minutes. 

That event marked a turning point in my life.  First, dad never again stopped to ask for directions as long as I can remember and mom if she ever asked, it was sure to get heated.  Second,  as an 8 year old, I had to decide how to react to what I encountered.  Should I hate them back?  But that didn’t seem right because although some white men were aiming to harm my family, one old gentleman saw to it that we didn’t enter harm’s way.  I decided at that age, I couldn’t hate back or I would be as horrible as they were.  Nor could I condemn a race of people based on them.  Just as the “Pa Kettle” figure helped us, maybe there were more like him than the ones inside the gas station.  I had to believe that or I would have no hope in humanity.  It did scar me from ever visiting the south and I didn’t until twenty years later.
To be continued…..
Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.