Accepting that people are different doesn’t come easy.
Racism and prejudice can probably traced back to a very young age. It’s when we don’t like a person and just because of that we pick on their gender or ethnic background.
Now I need to clarify that sometimes our like or dislike is not really ours, but the making of someone else. Maybe some of us have followed the pack at some point in our lives.
For me, it happened in fifth grade.
Back then (waaaaay back) a certain Polish girl attended fifth grade in Chopin Elementary School in Chicago with me. She was big for a fifth grader and a bit different from the rest of us. I decided I was going to hate her with everyone else in my classroom. A bully had begun spreading that she didn’t wear underwear to school, so I kind of began watching her closely. Nobody really knew about it, but I joined in the collective hatred.
My hatred didn’t really last that long, I was given a very quick reality check.
My parents had relocated in Chicago from Upstate New York and that weekend a teacher I was very fond of came to visit me at home. Miss Liska was coming to visit and I felt excited and thrilled all at the same time. So, we began talking about this and that, she was drilling me about how school was going, and all of a sudden I said with a steel determination in my voice,
-I hate Polish people.
She seemed startled for a bit, but proceeded to ask me,
I went on to tell her about the girl at school, and finished with,
-She’s Polish, that why!
After a moment, she informed me quietly,
-That if I hated Polish people, I also hated her because she was Polish.
-No, you’re not! – I answered startled -You’re from New Jersey.
-Yes, I am, both my parents are Polish.
I’m not sure if she said she was a second generation Polish. I’ll have to ask her one of these days.
The thing is that she basically stopped me dead on my tracks. All of a sudden I no longer hated Polish people, why would I? I loved this teacher more than I was supposed to, so I needed to remedy that situation pronto.
I can’t remember what happened next at school, however I will never forget the lesson I learned that day. Never, ever have I repeated that I hate anyone in fact. People are different and that’s fine because we don’t live in a homogeneous world.
I’ve tried to teach my children that diversity is something to look forward too, not hide from. We’ve suffered racism along the way and its okay because some things you can’t change, but you can do something about it. Don’t let it get to you!
Some years ago, while I was attending a NSTA conference in St. Louis, my badge said Afghanistan instead of Anasco, PR. It was a clerk’s mistake so I went back to ask her if she could correct it. I heard this young woman that was next in line say to her friend,
-It’s the same thing.
Referring to both places in a tone of voice full of prejudice and so much more. After my initial shock I chose to speak to her and address the issue, to which she answered that,
-It was a joke.
In the meantime I was called back by the clerk. When she gave me my badge back she apologized not only for the mistake, but also for my colleague. I left feeling pretty bad about the place I call home and for my brother that had come back after a 18 month deployment. It didn’t seem like a joke to me.
Racism isn’t a pretty picture to those who are victims to it.
We have to make sure we not only look at ourselves carefully, but also at our children’s attitudes and help them take place in a world that is diverse in every way.
Life is much more than where you are from, or the color of your skin, or your heritage. It’s about living the fullest and appreciating people for who they are. So you see, “mis queridos amigos” life’s flavor is all about the variety we are able to find in it because that’s what life is all about.