Friday, February 17, 2012

Less Than No Prejudice

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have A Dream"

This quotation from Dr. King's famous speech popped into my head the other day as I was watching my younger son in Karate class. He was doing a partner exercise -- a little white boy was holding hands with a little black girl. They were both smiling and laughing as they tried to meet the challenge their instructor had set for them; something about a "crescent kick."

But there they were: Dr. King's dream in motion. It occurred to me as I watched them that my son actually has less than no prejudice in his head.

As a forty-four year old American man, I was born during the heart of the Civil Rights movement; I was well under three months old on April 4, 1968.

Growing up, I had some relatives and neighbors who regarded African Americans as inferior to white people. They didn't don pointy, white hats (nor did they hate) and they didn't voice their ideas out loud, but they showed this superior perspective in their general attitudes.

Others of my relatives offered kindly segregationistic attitudes: "I just think that it would be hard on the child if a white person married a black person -- the kids would look different; they'd get teased..." One relative, once (a relative, to give, at least, some perspective, who was born at the turn of the twentieth century), even referred to a neighbor as a "nice (insert n-word here)" once. Imagine.

And, yes, there were others who spat racial slurs with some amount of venom. I heard that, too.

In a way, I had to zig-zag through a kind of ethical obstacle course to arrive at a prejudice-free adulthood. I used to say that there is no such thing as a person who doesn't hold at least a little prejudice, in terms of race. But I think my mind has been changed. 

The reason for my former perspective -- that we all have some prejudice -- is that I think that as long as someone is conscious of racial lines, he is flirting with prejudice of a kind. (Once, someone was reading to my youngest son and that person pointed to a picture in a book: "Look -- here's a little black boy." Why isn't he just a little boy? I wondered. This sort of thinking (that the boy is a little black boy), to me, is divisive -- not racist and not necessarily quite prejudiced, but divisive: the doorstep to prejudice; a kind of pre-prejudice.

So, as I looked on at Karate class, I considered that the mere fact that is occurred to me that a little white boy and a little black girl were holding hands and echoing Dr. King's dream means that, although I am not prejudiced, I certainly bear some scars inflicted by the times and circumstances in which I grew up.

But my son? No scars. No negative imprints. Not even an issue, in his mind. He has less than no prejudice; he doesn't even think divisively. Before him, he sees a little girl and he sees a friend. He is neither proud of his lack of prejudice nor taken aback by being paired with a person of another race. He is simply unaware of a line. That, I believe, is what Dr. King dreamed about.

And, yet again, I smile at the thought that my boys will no doubt someday become better men than their father is, in every way. Shouldn't that be every dad's dream?

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