Prejudice is “a feeling of like or dislike for someone or something, especially when it is not reasonable or logical.” (Thank you Merriam-Webster) We use our prior experience to place a judgement upon a new person or thing, fitting it into the system already set up in our brains. Prejudice works. It works so well that it is hard wired into the human brain as one of our immediate go-to’s. We function because we do not have to make decisions about each and every thing we do each day: we pre-judge. We know that if we run up a flight of stairs, we need to lift our foot at least 8 inches each step so that we do not go splat. The crazy morning routines to get the kids to school? Autopilot. Prejudice at work.
It can work so well that we don’t notice when it becomes irrational and destructive; so well that when our prejudices are threatened, we feel threatened and become defensive. So how do we break through the concrete wall of prejudice in people’s minds?
The only way to disrupt prejudice is to make it not work. Move to a town where all those stairs are 5 inches high and we will learn change, after a few of those splats.
Why do I have a say?
But first, why does a middle aged white doctor even rate an opinion on prejudice?
I was raised in the 60’s and 70’s as a homely smart girl in a family that did not… appreciate… brains in a female. In high school I earned a 96% in Algebra, for which I received a B. My teacher told me he had never given an A to a girl in math and I “sure as hell was not going to be the first.” I went to college, where my advisor told me not to bother applying to med school because I had no chance: for a female to get in was hard, and one who was not pretty? Impossible. When I went for an interview at the University of Virginia, the Dean walked into the room, told me that he had been told he had to accept 17 females and he had his 17, so he was not going to “waste his time” talking to me. My kingdom for a tape recorder!
Through med school and residency the women had to work harder and longer than any of the men to get half the respect, and frequently the boys got credit for what we did anyway. One of my mentors told me that I wouldn’t have been there at all if not for the quotas. What quotas? Women are not a minority! The other residents (all male) laughed, to make sure he knew they were all on his side, in the boy club.
At one point I passed out and had a seizure from exhaustion; my female senior resident had done the same thing the year before. The attending’s response was, “You’ll be here tomorrow, right?”
When I started my pediatric practice, the local hospital sent a letter to every doctor on staff telling them not to refer to me. The local OB/Gyn told me they were “not ready for a female doctor”, and I should go somewhere else.
Prejudice? I am an expert.
If you think that it is not the same as being threatened by police and possibly killed, I could add that my brother and sister-in-law were murdered by a Miami police officer, who was punished afterwards with a 3 day suspension.
There are two options when faced with bigotry: either become bitter and angry, blaming someone else for your problems, or prove the bastards wrong.
Bitterness and anger solves nothing.
The only way to defeat prejudice is to prove it wrong, and prove that the people espousing it are idiots. Over the last 50 years, I have put a Kasey shaped hole in sexism. Add that to all the other women working toward equality and we have made a dent.
As another example, the tide of public opinion on homosexuality has changed more quickly than any other opinion ever polled. This happened after homosexuals came out in droves. In one generation people went from “I don’t know any homosexuals” to “My friend is gay, and I don’t want him hurt.”
The opposite option is the way the man haters in the original women’s movement behaved. Spouting hatred as your reason for change only poisons the movement and turns people off.
If we want to shatter racism, we have to change the African-American that people see. We need to push into view Black brilliance, talent and ability. We not only need to have people like Obama and Maya Angelou out front and center, we need Hollywood to change the stereotypes they display, and we need successful Black Americans in every walk of life. We need more Black doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and electricians to stand strong in the wind and disrupt the flow of racism.
Which means we need more Black professionals. We need teachers, police officers, nurses… To do this we need to effect change within the African American culture. It does no good to talk and yell that people have to believe differently. It will only change if people behave differently.
Change needs to come from within the culture. No one from outside can fix this. I can tell a little girl she can be anything she wants to be until I am blue. If she goes home and hears that she is “nothin” from her family; that she is a “ho” from her boyfriend, that she can’t escape, because the whole world is against her – in the end chances are good that she will give up and settle, and all of her amazing potential will be lost.
This rant is a plea to the leaders in the Black community: please lead. Stop placing blame and fighting racism with more racism. Take responsibility and offer change. Be decent role models. Value respect, education, determination, and work. Value commitment to family, and presence in the home. Prove those racist idiots wrong by being better and stronger than they could ever be.