Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Overcome Prejudice by Facing It

Until somewhat recently, whenever I helped someone who was ‘different’ from me, I’d pat myself on the back believing I was a fair and just person. But I was only fooling myself. Turns out there was at least one group of people with whom I had issues. It was the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community and it took the most innocent things on the planet for me to see it.
               Just like that stale cliché said, ‘Some of my best friends are gay.’ The thing was, I used to keep them at a distance. Not physically but through my thinking. It was shocking when I finally realized I had been defining them foremost as gay, downplaying all the other rich and complex things that make up human beings. I naively looked at sexual orientation first. In short, I saw them as gay people instead of people who are gay.
               What disturbs me most is that as a man of African American descent, I should have known better and been appreciating LGBTQ folks in more complete ways. I've had my own share of experiences being ‘the black guy’ – at the office, in church, in stores and on the street. Yet, there I was looking on folks in the LGBTQ community like they were ‘other’ people, and not like me.
               In reality, they were/are like me in so many ways. Ways that matter. Except back then I didn't see it. It took me visiting a family of five whose parents were lesbians to realize how I’d been thinking. There I was: talking football with one and watching the other cook. All while the kids laughed, played, hugged one mom, complained to the other mom, etc. In short, they went about their normal lives, like everyone else I know.
Lesbian family from TV's "All My Children"
               I think it was the children being there that helped remove my blind spot. Before that day, I’d never shared space in a family setting where the parents held a different sexual orientation than me. Up until that time all the friends I knew who were gay were single. There’s something about innocent younglings cutting up that lets you know everything is normal. In any event, that was a turning point for me. In that moment I was able to confront my prejudice and misconceived notions of what being gay means. And doesn’t mean.
               One thing that keeps us separate and apart as humans is that we don't fully interact with people we believe are different. Oh, we may be polite or even friendly. But mostly we trick ourselves into believing we accept others like we accept ourselves. Except we don't. Not really. And I was quite disappointed in myself when I finally came to realize I was acting in the same way so many people regarded me and other people of color. Or persons with disabilities or of a different religion. Or political party.
               Breaking bread, sharing problems, watching kids be kids – those simple activities went a long way in helping me truly comprehend we all are more alike than not. It was a bitter pill when I finally saw how narrowly I had been looking at many of my friends, and embarrassing how easy for me it had been to disregard another group of people’s way of being simply because it was different from my own. For me, all it took was spending authentic, family time with people I thought I understood but really didn’t.
               I now know that in order to best appreciate people, I must move toward them, not away. So as a reminder, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more alert to my prejudices. Who will join me?

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