One of the very one-sided pieces of training we received before going overseas was how ethnocentric (prejudiced/biased) Americans were. While it served, at the time, to make us aware of our own attitudes, it failed to take into account that other cultures were equally ethnocentric.
American culture, like most cultures, is filled with bias and stereotypes that only serve to continue to divide and antagonize. For instance, Southern Christians. In some circles those words raise blood pressure and you can almost see the steam coming out of someone’s ears. Are Southern Christians prejudiced? Yes, of course, we are. More than Northerners or atheists? Of course not. Everyone, regardless of their beliefs or place of birth, is prejudiced and biased in some way because we have flawed, fallen natures that naturally assume the worse about someone else. Individuals are more or less prejudiced based on their upbringing, circumstances, or inclinations. It has little to do with being a member of a people or religious group. It takes a real effort to overcome that natural tendency because we assume that everyone like us is right and anyone different is wrong since it’s what we are accustomed to. However, anyone with an open mind can see the inconsistencies between what we think is right and what is actually right and begin to think for themselves.
I remember one summer in California, standing in line to pay for a purchase at a gift shop. The Asian couple in front of me was having trouble figuring out what coins were needed. While I wished I spoke their language and could help them, the obviously wealthy, northeastern seaboard couple behind me made verbal comments out loud along the lines of, “If you can’t speak our language, you don’t need to be here.” Even though I was just a college student from a southern state with a Christian background, I took it upon myself to turn and gently reprimand the couple. I didn’t know whether the Asian couple could understand English or not, but I felt embarrassed by the American couple who were so rude.
While I know the South has a reputation for skin color prejudice (and some of it well deserved), not all Southerners are prejudiced; any more than all Northerners are tolerant. Even as a junior high girl I felt there was something wrong with racism and never could understand why people judged others based on skin color. My parents taught me that people are people and everyone is worthy of respect and dignity, even though they, too, had to struggle with the prejudice of their upbringing.
That legacy of color blindness was passed on to our children. Just recently one of our children was assigned a new roommate, who told our youngster up front, “I’ve never lived with anyone other than my own kind.” Our youngster had grown up with all kinds and didn’t mind that the new roommate wasn’t pasty white.
Which brings me to my last point/ramble: Christianity. The media, among others, would argue that Christians are horribly intolerant of others. In reality, Christians are more tolerant of allowing other faiths to co-exist peacefully. I’ve seen signs that proclaim, “Religious tolerance includes non-Christians.” What I’ve found is that “religious tolerance” has a tendency toward excluding Christians, more than it does including other faiths.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is more than just a cute saying. It demonstrates the wisdom of understanding people are different, but valuable. Books have purpose and meaning, regardless of whether they are digital or print, fiction or non-fiction. People, faith, ideas, etc. also have purpose and meaning in spite of what they may look like on the outside. Some of my favorite books—and people—are dusty, worn, ragged from use and life. They are the ones I return to time and time again. Their intrinsic value isn’t in how they look, but in what they add to my life and what I can learn from them.
So the next time you pass me on the street, don’t judge me because of my skin color, or the place where I grew up, or my faith because what you see isn’t always what you get.