A friend and I were discussing the pros and cons of a new development that will be built at the entrance to our neighborhood. A developer was proposing to build either an office/condo complex or residential condos on the site. Our neighborhood association had recently done a poll and the results had been in favor of the offices with small businesses such as coffee shops, barber shops etc. on the bottom level. So, this was what we were discussing but it was what came out of my mouth that has led me to do some serious soul searching.
I mentioned that I preferred the upscale residential condos and went on to explain that since the area surrounding us was predominantly Hispanic that the offices and businesses would cater to that clientele and I could visualize young hoods hanging out at the stores and the possibility of gang activities. I presented my viewpoint and promptly forgot it. I suddenly remembered what I had said when I passed the site a few days later. And worse, I remembered with a jolt and utter shame that my friend is Cuban/ American and his wife is from Ecuador. I had never thought about their ethnic backgrounds. They were simply my neighbors and friends.
Until that moment if anyone had asked me if I were prejudiced I would have answered a resounding NO! But according to the dictionary, prejudice means a preconceived judgment or opinion. Although I would never judge an individual by their race or ethnic background, I had a preconceived view of a group of individuals. It’s a stereotyped view of certain ethnic groups fed not only by my WASP heritage but also by the media. When a crime is reported, the news media will often mention the race or ethnic background of the perpetrator if they are other than white. A criminal is a criminal no matter his race so why mention it.
Unfortunately, I am not the only one who is inflicted by this form of prejudice. I see it and hear it frequently usually prefaced by; “I have some very good friends who are black/ Hispanic.” or, looking furtively around if they are in a crowd, “There was this black/Hispanic who…” Some might call this benign prejudice, if they would call it prejudice at all. These are people who would never discriminate against an individual for their race or beliefs. These are people who would never participate in or condone active racism – would they?
I believe that until, we, as a society can cleanse ourselves of all preconceived bias against others we can not hope to build a world where every individual can go forth and know that they will be judged solely on their own merit. I believe that this is a world for which we must all strive.