Prejudice vs Tolerance – Skin Color and Economic Class

It’s no secret that I am a rather liberal Democrat. There’s no question of my place well to the left on the political spectrum. I do consider myself a Christian, though the exact definition of my beliefs is rather hazy. I believe in the teachings and philosophy of Jesus Christ, something I refer to as Christian humanism. I am also a theist, meaning I believe in God, but not necessarily the literal depiction of God in the Bible. Explaining that could be a whole other blog post…or a book. But I wanted to present these ideals of mine before getting into the meat of my topic here. Because I openly advocate for marriage equality, women’s rights, sexual freedom, helping the poor, providing care for the sick…but I cannot deny that my overwhelming desire for tolerance is tinged by something darker…prejudice.

Prejudice is an ugly word, most often evoking the concept of racism, but it applies to many different things. I want to be frank about some of the prejudices I hold in an effort to further the conversations we have about tolerance in our modern world. I consider this post “Part 1” in a series.

Skin Color

Yes, I make snap judgments about people based on their skin color. Sometimes I have visceral reactions based on my first impressions, and they can be entirely unwarranted. I grew up in an entirely white neighborhood. I can count on one hand the number of people of color I knew in elementary school. (One of them was an Indian girl who ended up being one of my closest friends in the sixth grade.) It may take two hands to count how many I knew in high school. But suffice to say, I was surrounded by people who looked like me for my entire childhood.

Diversity - Image from ClipArt.com

The boys on the bus would tell horribly racist jokes, and I never found them funny. No one in my family was overtly racist, but there were undertones sometimes. And there were always undertones on TV, even on the local news.

I feel a little guilty when I clutch my purse a little tighter or lock my car doors when I pass by groups of young men who are black or Latino. It’s instinctive. But I also realized…I do the same thing around groups of young white men, too, especially those who puff out their chests trying to look macho or who otherwise strike me as unsavory. It’s the wariness that’s instilled in all women when they go off to college. Be on your guard. Try to avoid situations that could end badly for you.

I have been blessed with a diverse set of friends in the blogosphere, which has helped me recognize some of my prejudices and put them aside. My geographic location may be primarily white, but social media and the occasional blog conference has helped me get to know some wonderful people who happen to have African-American, South Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, or other heritage. And we have more in common on the inside that it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside.

Being conscious of my instinctive reactions, I make an effort to reevaluate my initial judgment of people, especially when I find myself feeling nervous around someone of color. As such, I also try to correct people who make blanket generalizations about others based on their skin color. The myth of the welfare queen is just that, a myth. One I used to believe in, but now understand that I was duped by the people who have no qualms about their own racist ideas.

Economic Class

Which leads me into the concept of poverty and economic class. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing poor people are lazy, and that if they just tried harder they could pick themselves up by their bootstraps. I don’t live in the city, but on those occasional class trips into NYC when I was in school, I remember avoiding homeless people, not wanting to give anyone money they would just spend on alcohol.

Homeless Man - Photo from ClipArt.com

Then there’s that moment when you realize your family was actually “poor” for a time when you were growing up. You just never knew it. When your dad, a loyal employee, was on lack of work for a while and had to accept a much lower paying job at the same time your baby brother was coming, McDonald’s was a treat and Friendly’s was an extravagant fancy dinner. And then you grow up and end up going on and off unemployment benefits through no fault of your own due to crappy employers or businesses falling on hard times that couldn’t afford to pay you anymore. And family members lose their houses even after setting up a payment plan and being promised by the bank’s lawyers that foreclosure wasn’t an option. (And getting only a crappy settlement check a few years later when the bank gets a slap on the wrist for all of their illegal foreclosures.) And friends end up on all sorts of government assistance because the economy crashed and they ended up in the unemployment trap where the good paying jobs they were qualified for had hundreds of people applying for a single position, and the lower paying jobs wouldn’t even consider them because they were overqualified.

Then you realize that, if you know so many people in such dire straits through no fault of their own, you’ve probably been unfairly judging “poor people” as a whole. It’s a systemic failing. Oh sure, there are some people who are completely responsible for their own misfortunes, but we should be giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of automatically assuming they are lazy freeloaders. And that’s why I will always support an economic safety net for vulnerable populations – whether they are families with kids, veterans, immigrants, or whatever. (And that includes a jobs bill and funding for public works!)

The next part in this series will be about religion and sexuality. Are you comfortable sharing your own prejudices about skin color and economic class in the comments, and how you try to overcome them?

Christina Gleason (973 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I'm a multiply disabled autistic woman doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including Twitch Sings and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


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