Racism vs. Prejudice on MLK Jr. Day
IN CASE YOU CAN'T READ IT, HUEY'S SAYING, "WHITE PEOPLE."
It has long been my belief that all social beings are racist. By racist, I mean that we all have racial associations and that these associations have some grounding in reality. Most nail salon workers I have encountered are Korean, though you will often find Koreans owning corner delis. Most of the kitchens in Manhattan are staffed with Mexicans, no matter the cuisine of the establishment. Out of all the cabbies I have had in the past six years, a majority are Haitian, Pakistani or Indian. My garbagemen are Italian. The doormen I know are black and extremely tall.
Is all of this true all of the time? No. Are all of these things true some of the time? Yes. Therefore, is it reasonable to assume these things to be true at any time? Yes.
Regardless of the reason that these things are true, they have proven true a majority of the time that I have lived in New York City, the perfect petri dish for cultural observations. Do I believe that Koreans are inherently better at eyebrow waxing and cuticle removal? Not necessarily, but I have encountered excellent examples of both being true. Do I believe that recent immigrants will occupy similar jobs and neighborhoods as the people they know or are related to who have most recently successfully established themselves in the U.S.? Yes. That is a matter of convenience and survival.
Why is this on my mind tonight? Tonight, I went to the movies. It is a Monday night and, according to weather.com, it is 17 degrees Fahrenheit and it feels like 3. It is also MLK Jr. Day and the movie we chose to see has been in theatres long enough that there was little chance of the place to be crowded. (We saw Ocean's 12, a franchise I can't get enough of.) We were all through the trailers and the movie was beginning. I got my favorite seat in the theatre (last row, middle) and the closest people to our seats were at least two rows away. It was ideal.
And then they walked in.
A group of four young boys in puffy black winter coats, one of them chatting on his cell phone which rang three times during the movie. His ringtone was Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop. They took their shoes off and propped their socked feet on the back of the chairs in front of them. Of course, they had fully audible conversations and didn't respond to the chorus of shushing around them.
Guess their racial background.
Here's the thing. Here's my take on racism vs. prejudice. Everyone is racist because everyone has ideas about people based on the color of their skin or their nationality. It's like looking at a red delicious apple and knowing it will taste differently then a granny smith. If you choose not to eat the red delicious because you prefer a tarter flavor, you have a prejudice. That is, a pre-judgment. [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin praeidicium : prae-, pre- + idicium, judgment (from idex, idic-, judge. See deik- in Indo-European Roots).] That is not necessarily a bad thing. It means you have a judgment based on past experience. If you erupt into a rage and smash everything in sight at the mere thought of a red delicious apple . . .well, first you have some serious issues. Secondly, the connotation of your prejudice is, in fact, negative and stems from some sort of ignorance.
Whether or not you choose to treat someone differently based on their race or gender or sexual preference, etc. defines the connotation of your bias. If you beat someone up because they are Latino and you hate all Latinos, you are probably an asshole. If you assume when you walk into a salon that the girl about to administer your pedicure will be Korean but have a nametag that says, "Jennifer" then you also have a prejudice. However, if you are just as kind to Jennifer as any other person, then the connotation of your prejudice is a personal observation that does not necessarily affect your environment.
It is a subtle science.
Going back to the boys in the theatre, I was reminded of my own prejudice today. Because I have had this experience more than once and because, each time, the offensive people in question have been of the same racial background, I have a prejudgment. If I had gone up to these boys tonight and said, "You shouldn't be allowed in movie theatres," then they would have said I was racist. They would be correct. However, the guilt in this situation lies in both parties. I would be guilty of having an unreasonable prejudice and they would be guilty of fulfilling a stereotype.
That is my caveat to anyone who does not want to be mistreated based on their race. Do not fulfill the stereotype if you do not want to be accused of its implications. I know in my mind that not every black person in the world is loud and rude during movies. (Though, I might venture to say that most teenagers are annoying anywhere they happen to be grouped.) However, I have heard the stereotype joked about by Chris Rock and other racially self-effacing comedians. Also, I have seen it for myself.
All it means is simply this. Anyone who claims to not be racist is a liar. If you have racial associations based on multiple experiences but do not choose to treat anyone exclusively, then you are like most people. If you have racial associations based on information you have gleaned from watching television and you hate all people of a certain characteristic "just because", then you might just be an ignorant asshole. Furthermore, anyone who displays negative behaviors that are commonly indicative of their race and constantly cry "racism" when confronted with said behaviors is ill-mannered and equally ignorant. Either way, more often than not, you reap what you sow.