A few weeks ago I finished reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. The main character, Hanna, is called upon to work on a fifteenth century manuscript, a Jewish haggadah. The book is real and known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, but Hanna, and the story of how the book survived through the centuries is fictional. The book starts with Hanna, and then goes back in time following the haggadah, through World War II then returns to Hannah and then back even further in the haggadah’s history until eventually the reader finds out who the original artist and writer was. Not only did the book follow the haggadah’s history, but it follows the prejudice and suffering of the Jews through the centuries. Brooks did an amazing research job to write this book. Did you know that at a certain period in history to get the finest drawn lines a single neck hair from a young white cat was used? Or the parchment of a certain time was made from a now extinct type of sheep?
Today we shudder to think of the horror inflicted on people by the Nazis, not only of the Jews but the Gypsies and others, too. And yet our country is not without blame, either. We just about decimated the Native Americans who lived here first and took their land from them forcing them eventually onto lands often far from their native land. We not only condoned slavery, but even after that ended, blacks have continued to suffer discrimination. Other groups, like Japanese Americans interred during World War II, have been judged by their heritage instead of by their merits. And many Hispanics have to deal with discrimination, too.
When my parents started dating, my mother’s father, Grandpa Jones, was appalled and very much against their marriage. Grandpa considered my dad a foreigner, even though he’d been born in this country. In grandpa’s eyes with a name like Hovanic, he wasn’t a true American. Adding to that, my dad was a Catholic. and just as bad, he was a Democrat, and worked in a factory and carried a lunch pail to work. Grandpa Jones was a farmer, and belonged to Champion Christian Church, but rarely if ever actually went to church. He was a Republican although I never heard him discuss politics and his ancestors had been in America over a hundred years. The fact that my dad was intelligent, tolerant, a hard worker and had a year of college, too, something rare in those depression years, didn’t impress my grandfather as it should have. At least it didn’t then although eventually he became quite close to my father.
I’d like to believe with time and a more connected world through travel and the internet, we are becoming a more tolerant and enlightened people who are respectful of other people’s cultures, nationalities, race and religions. Unfortunately, I think that’s wistful thinking. After 9-11, prejudice against Muslims ramped up. It didn’t matter that the Muslim religion is a peaceful religion; people tend to think that a few radicals, who have perverted the Koran, stand for Muslims as a whole. That’s as ridiculous as thinking the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis both represent Christianity. Both were made up of Christians, who perverted the Christian message. It saddens me to think that with the Boston bombings, the Muslims will again have people believe they’re all terrorists setting them back to the days after 9-11.
I’d also like to think I’m free of prejudice, but that would deny the truth. I have my prejudices as I think most people do whether they’ll admit it or not. If I come across someone covered in tattoos and piercings, my impression is definitely negative. Not that I think they’re bad, it’s more that I think they’re weird. If I hear someone spouting conspiracy theories, I’m resistant. I’m also repulsed by someone whose conversation is peppered with lots of swear words. If someone questions the validity of global warming and doesn't believe man is causing environmental damage, I think they’re delusional. So am I prejudiced? I’d be in denial if I thought I wasn’t. I may be delusional about other things about myself, but I think I’m honest about that.
How about you? What kind of prejudices do you have?