Showing posts with label prejudice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prejudice. Show all posts

May 6, 2021

The Ubiquitous--and Erroneous--"They"

A friend told me the other day she'd started a new British mystery and found it had tons of swearwords and name-calling. Her question to me was "Do you think they really talk that way over there?"

Talk of "they" bothers me. Yes, "they" had different beliefs than ours in 15th century Europe, but I don't for a moment think everyone believed they'd go to hell if they had sex on Sunday. If those people believed everything the Church said they shouldn't do, there wouldn't have been any sinfulness, but murder, theft, fornication, and other sins went on, as they do now. It simply paid to keep quiet about what you did, what with the Inquisition and all.

I once hosted a teacher from Moscow who was disappointed by our small town. In Russia, she'd been told that in America "they" go shopping every day and night-clubbing every weekend. Spending a year in a county with no mall and not even a stoplight wasn't what she'd pictured when signing up to visit.

The question in all of this is who is 'they'? Of course there are British people who swear a lot. There were once pious Spaniards who believed every word their priest said. And we know there are Americans for whom a Saturday night without being "out" is unthinkable. But every society has a range, and while "they" might represent the majority, they probably do not. 

Impressions we have of historical groups often come from sources that are either biased or uninformed. History was written by scholars, since they could write, but most scholars were monks, with definite views on sin and sinfulness. History often became more a moral lesson than a factual account. Scholars also had to worry about pleasing their masters (unless they didn't care if their heads remained between their shoulders). And new stories were built on older stories without any attempt to confirm the truth of the original. Consequently, there might be hardly any truth in a "history" at all.

My characterization of Macbeth in Macbeth's Niece for example, is historically incorrect. Shakespeare needed a villain to represent unbridled ambition, so he chose a rather ordinary Scottish king and turned him into a murderer. While I added notes at the end of my book to explain the truth of Macbeth's character, I'm afraid his name will always be associated with evil.

In current times, we get impressions from TV and form conclusions based on them, often wrongly. We see bands of screaming zealots and conclude, "The **s hate Americans." It's been proven, over and over, that the vast majority of people on this earth have no impression of Americans at all. We don't matter to them or their daily lives. Those who do hate us probably have their reasons, but they're based on the very practice I'm writing about: forming impressions with insufficient information.

When we see news reports, TV shows, and movies that reveal slices of life in other places, we should keep in mind that's what they are. The people you see aren't "they." Motives differ, and heaven knows we tend to become a little nicer when there's a camera filming. The reporter went there for a story, and he or she chose whom to interview based on ideas of how that story would go. If the neighbor next door had been chosen, the result might be completely different. Creators of content choose what interests them, and what they think will interest you. 

Before I actually visited an Arab nation, my impressions were mostly wrong. Once there, I saw people going about their lives, shopping, having coffee with friends, trying to keep up with their kids, all the things I see here at home. The clothing and customs were different, yes, but the bottom line wasn't.

What I'm saying is that people are people, no matter the time or the place. There are crooks who cheat, and honest types who never would. There are saints who'd die for you and sinners who'd steal your last dime. There are braggarts and truth-tellers. Distrustful types and friendly sorts. Silly asses and wise folk. People who'd talk your arm off and people of few words. 

Don't base your conclusions on what "they" say about what "they" do. Figure it out for yourself.

Nov 20, 2017

What You See Is What You Expect

We "get" what we're told, shown, and subjected to over our lives, but in the best of times, changes come along that make us think. Thinking is good.

When I was a kid in the '50s, it was perfectly okay for my school to put on a Minstrel Show, where kids in blackface acted (usually overacted) their perceptions of black people. Few in our rural area had met anyone unlike ourselves, and I recall watching as older kids had a great time shucking, jiving, and acting stupid--the way they perceived black folks.

My mom was once given a box of books, and being an inveterate reader, I worked my way through them. One was a joke book, and I enjoyed the anecdotes about Goldfarb, Wisenstein, and other city dwellers with odd names. They were all self-absorbed, bossy, and overly concerned with money. It wasn't until years later I realized the characters in those "jokes" were all Jews, and the laughs were meant to come from the assumption that all Jews were conniving cheapskates.

I had no idea what homosexuality was. Never mentioned. Never. Guess it wasn't very important, huh?

Comments were made to/about both sexes that denigrated them, and no one seemed concerned about whether that was right or wrong. "Running like a girl" was an insult to boys. One teacher insisted that playing rough games at recess was too "tomboyish" for me, and I needed to learn to act like a lady.
 By junior high I knew girls were expected to fend off the sexual advances of boys, but boys were allowed, even expected, to make such advances.

I know. If you're my age you can tell the same stories, but for many of a certain age, it's hard to get past those prejudices. That's why you shouldn't look at political correctness as something invented to make you miserable. It simply demands that you think about what you do and say, despite what you've seen, heard, and done before. If you talk about how "great" America was in those days, you're thinking only of yourself, and that's wrong.

Let's say you begin a story with, "Yesterday at the gas station there was this Asian woman..." ask yourself why you told me she was Asian. Do I need to find her at some point, or are you drawing an unnecessary line between yourself and that woman? Without stopping to think once in a while, we tend to lump everyone together (hey, it's easy) and judge them because they're "different." Then we separate ourselves from them because we're--what? Not different? The same, as in white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants?

Not all cops are good or bad. Not all soldiers are heroes or cowards. Not all Republicans are greedy or noble. Not all members of a race, religion, ethnic group, or whatever fit the stereotypes we attach to them. I spent time in two Arab countries (neither of which was the war-torn mess we see on TV) and saw that the people there did the same things we do. They gossiped, worked, shopped, and went for a swim when it was hot.(I don't know what they did when it got cold was hot.)

As a kid I was exposed to judgmental thinking from prejudiced, ignorant people (in the sense they didn't know what they were talking about). As an adult I know we should take people on a case by case basis. I've met some I didn't care for who had different skin color, but there's no relationship between those things. I've met lots of people the same color as me I'd rather never see again too.

Think before you generalize. Pause before you separate yourself from others, especially if you're separating in order to let yourself believe that you're better.

Jun 27, 2016

The Cruelest Word of All

Yes, those are sharks!
I won't keep you in suspense. It's they--the little pronoun separates you from others.

They means "those not like us." They marry their children off at nine. They don't value human life. They believe they'll go immediately to heaven if they take non-believers with them when they die.

Let's turn that around. We go to clubs every night, where we take drugs, drink prodigious amounts of alcohol, and hook up with strangers. We think all women should strive to look like Gigi Hadid, no matter what their body type. We believe the more guns we have in our homes, the safer we are. We anticipate a heaven where we'll walk around on streets of gold, singing hymns and playing the harp.

That's not what you believe? But that's the impression those in other cultures have of you, based on songs, cartoons, sermons, media, and speeches. If it isn't you, maybe you aren't a typical American.

Or maybe there's no such thing as they.

I've griped here before about statements made concerning people of the past: They never bathed, or they thought the Evil Eye could kill a person. Not everyone believed that, not even most of everyone. If everyone truly believed in the Hell those preachers described, would there be any sin whatsoever? Like sermons of today about love and tolerance, those homilies on the "angry" God who'd dangle you like a spider over the pit of Hell must have gone in one ear and out the other, and our forefathers, like most of us, continued doing on Monday morning just as they'd done last Friday afternoon.

There isn't any they today, either. The next time someone tells you "they" want to kill us, ask yourself this question: Can you get your whole family to agree on where and when to hold the next reunion? If you can't get a group of people who are closely related to agree on that, why would you think an entire nation is united on anything?

Apr 4, 2016

Why Do I Read These Books?

I finished Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale on Saturday. It was amazing.
I wish I'd never opened to page one.
I do this all the time. Someone tells me a book is good, so I get it and read it and hate myself halfway through. You see, it makes me emotionally sick to read how awful people in groups can be to those they decide to hate. I had my fill of reading about it long ago, with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Mila 18 and all those beautifully horrible books that show what happens when a group is targeted for something like their religion.
I don't need to be reminded, I tell myself. I learned all that long ago, and I hate getting involved with characters who aren't going to find a happy ending. You can call me overly sensitive (my husband does), but for me it isn't just a story if things like that really happened--still happen.
It's a reminder that people can get together and decide one part of society is somehow not deserving of being treated with respect. Once they believe that, they allow the worst parts of themselves to have free rein, because "they" deserve it. Apparently it's fairly easy to convince large numbers of people of this, usually by repeating lies until those who won't think for themselves, those who are desperate to think they're "better" than someone else, believe them.
The other part of it is making those who might stand up for the targeted group afraid to do so, lest they, too, lose freedom, rights, and loved ones.
In principle, I hate reading books that describe this situation so clearly that I feel like I'm experiencing it myself. In The Nightingale, I identified with both sisters' struggle against the Nazis. I wanted a happy ending for them, but I knew happy couldn't possibly come out of it. When people are encouraged to hate, they become less and less human. The worst elements of society rise to the top, and the "good people" just try to stay out of their way.
When I see those same elements at work in the world right now, I know that we have to remind ourselves not to let hatred of any segment of society overcome our humanity. We have to see how helpless individuals become when government sanctions mistreatment of any group.
I hate it, but when it's done as well as Ms. Hannah does it, I
see that it isn't a story. It's our future if we don't remain vigilant.

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that...