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Urodid Moth Cocoon (Photo credit: Jeff Cremer)

A cocoon is often used metaphorically to mean a place of safe development. Sometimes it is used to describe a condition where one is insulated from reality, untouched by the lives of others.

Parker J. Palmer uses the metaphor is such a way in his essay, “Fierce with Reality: Living and Loving Well to the End“:

At age 43, I was succeeding and failing as a husband and a father on a daily basis, had done battle with the evils of racism as a community organizer while ignoring the cocoon of white privilege that protected me from them, was alternately laid low and energized by the rejections I received en route to becoming a writer, and had drowned and then surfaced from my first deep-sea dive into clinical depression. I was, in short, a reasonably normal person: a complex and conflicted soul who yearned to be whole.

Cocooned or Bubbled-Wrapped?

How do we become aware of our cocoon? Perhaps we need friends of the kaleidoscope of colours and cultures to buffer, filter, and refine our understanding of… people.  We need exposure to authors like Lori Lakin Hutcherson who wrote, “My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest.”

Whatever the process – it involves becoming aware of how being bubbled wrapped in privilege prevents us from deeper self awareness. One hopes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has truly come to this realization in light of recent revelations of wearing black-face and brown-face (I need not pile-on him, I need only look in the mirror). Jagdeesh Mann reported:

“In apologizing for his actions, Trudeau basically admitted as much at a press conference in Winnipeg: “I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day. I have always acknowledged I come from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot,” he said.

When you grow up bubble-wrapped in privilege like Trudeau did, ignorance could seem like a plausible defence for blackface cosplay. But in reality, it’s not.”

Deep-Sea Dive into One’s Prejudices

Ignorance may not be a plausible defence, but without a “deep-sea dive” into one’s prejudices, how do we become aware of our massive blind spots?. Insight begins with listening to understand – the kind of understanding that seeks to feel something of another person’s experience – not just to know about it.

In “Why American Race Relations affects me as a German-Canadian“, I quoted Rebecca Carroll’s “White People Primer”:

Check your tone, your tenor and your composure when you’re engaged in dialog with black and brown people. Literally. Don’t say “I get it” because you don’t.

I confess, I don’t get it… because I have never had to endure the unrelenting prejudice any person of colour regularly faces. I can only say I am continuing my deep-sea dive.


Prejudice: What has it done for you lately?

Many years ago I read what has turned out to be a profoundly influential book written by David Augsburger titled, “Caring Enough to Confront“, first written in 1973.

Below is the entire chapter (a rather long read for a blog): “Prejudice: What has it done for you lately”.

Trigger Warning: I have not altered the language he used in 1973; it is provocative for good reason. (Excerpt source: Keithhunt.com).

I used to be a bit biased myself . (Now I have this thing about all biased people, they bug me.)

I used to be prejudiced myself. (Now I can’t stand prejudiced people who can’t accept others who differ from them.)

I used to hate the guys that smoke. (Now I hate the guys who hate the guys that smoke.)

“Talk about going after every cent you got,” you say to the guys over lunch. “You gotta count your fingers to see if you’ve got ’em all when you leave the clothing store at the mall.” You grin appreciatively as the fellows chuckle. Then it hits you. That line was a direct quote from long ago by your dad. A rerun of his racial feelings.

“I don’t dig replaying my dad’s racist lines,” you admit to yourself, “but it’s a matter of habit. Those old family scripts get rerun in me like they were on tape. And I don’t recognize the stale dialogue until I hear it out loud.

“I’m going to start listening for those old tapes,” you decide. “When I hear them I can stop, even if it’s in the middle of a line, and start over. I’m not stuck with the prejudiced attitudes I caught at home. I can choose my words. I can choose new ways of feeling toward people of different backgrounds.”

Clear confrontation of another’s prejudices requires that I be aware of, and wary of, my own. Before I dare address another on his bias or her intolerance, I need to recognize my ever present tendencies to slant the issues, skew my conclusions, and shape my viewpoints in favor of my kind, my kin, etc.

I need to deal with my own prejudging—whether it be radical, liberal, conservative, or apathetic. I am all of these on different issues. I am in process of changing and being changed. I may be useful in challenging other’s opinions.

Somewhere the ideas began—

that whites think they have divine rights,

that blacks are violent, power-driven,

that Indians are unimportant, dispensable,

that Mexicans are lazy, irresponsible,

that Polacks are stupid, slow-witted,

that Russians are malicious, dishonest,

that Italians are emotional.

Where did the ideas begin? I can’t recall who first implanted the stereotypes in my mind. Can you identify how these and their many variants first came to you?

No matter how, where, when I learned them, if the stereotypes of prejudice are with me now, I am responsible. If they are still with you, you are responsible. Such ideas stay with us because we choose to keep them with us. We indoctrinate ourselves with strange ideas such as, “Black people are biologically different from whites,” or, “Minority people are shiftless, lazy, and not to be trusted.”

To keep alive such assumptions as though they were facts, we simply keep repeating them, keep telling ourselves that they are true, keep slipping them into casual conversations:

“Minority children seem to have lower IQs.”

“The Indian has contributed little to our world.”

“The race problem in America is essentially a black problem.”

“The race problem in Canada is an Indian problem.”

The words are empty. We know it as we hear them. Yet the repetition serves to convince ourselves that our prejudices are still serviceable. They aren’t.

You met the Roberts at a neighbor’s backyard barbecue. They are the first blacks you’ve known—on a personal, family, social basis. You enjoyed them. But you were uncomfortable. You caught yourself checking on how the man was looking at your wife. You felt anxious and distant. So you’re just becoming aware of how deep your prejudice runs? You do buy into the old stereotypes—like blacks are sexual athletes, they aren’t safe around white women; they have no motivation to work; their fingers are long. “Where do all these old lines come from?” you wonder.

“From me,” you admit. “They’re part of my memory bank. I call them up. I reindoctrinate myself, reaffirm such ideas each time I think or mouth them. Maybe if I talked about my prejudices with the Roberts themselves, they could help me.

“Me? Receive help from them?” There’s another old prejudice. “Yes. Why not?” you say.

Prejudice is any collection of negative feelings based on erroneous judgments which are not readily changed even in the face of data which disproves them.

Prejudice is any set of negative valuations based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization.

The process of forming these generalizations called prejudices flows as follows:

We categorize to maintain our sanity. Grouping things, thoughts, and people into classes is necessary in order to handle the complexity of our world. The trap lies in our tendency to exaggerate differences between groups on a particular characteristic and to minimize the differences within all groups.

We stereotype to maintain our equilibrium. It throws us off balance to constantly be observing differences, so we attribute certain traits to large human groups. Often these are images chosen to justify a negative feeling—fear, threat, inferiority. It is a head theory to support what the heart wants to make true.

We sanitize all incoming data to maintain purity of opinions. By being selective on what we expose ourselves to, we automatically limit our contacts and possibilities. By being selective with attention, we unconsciously exclude all incompatible data. By being selective in our recall, we drop out conflictual facts. So only supportive evidence is admitted and any contradiction is seen as an exception to the rule which goes to prove the rule.

So we discriminate in feeling, men in thought process, then in action. And the contradictions go unnoticed.

For example, the traits considered a virtue in the groups we like (because we are like them) are seen as a vice when observed in members of unlike groups. If one is a white-Anglo-Saxon protestant, he or she will admire Lincoln for being thrifty, hardworking, eager to learn, ambitious, successful. In a Jew, such traits would be called stingy, miserly, driven, uncharitable, etc.

What beliefs, attitudes, generalizations and stereotypes I carry with me into the next moment are my choice. What prejudices and biases I keep with me are my responsibility. I am free—if I’m willing to accept the freedom inherent in humanness—to leave the past and its self-serving opinions behind me.

I have racist attitudes.

I don’t like discovering them in myself, so I’ve become expert at biding and denying them. Now I know that freedom and healing come as I can own these attitudes, admit my inner confusion, confess my apathy, discard my myths, and make a change.

Life changes from moment to moment. I too can change, unless I choose to be stuck with or to stick by old, narrow, self-defeating ideas and ways of behaving. Healing can come as I become willing to risk the pain of letting go of what I’ve clung to. Or hung onto. Prejudice is a bulldog grip. It is clenched teeth. It is a spiteful bite that grips the past and its stale ideas as a protection against the present and its realities. It is hanging onto the imaginary security of fantasies that “me and my kind” are superior in some way.

Healing follows a willingness to risk seeing, admitting, smiling at and saying good-bye to old generalizations. Then healing, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation happen.

What is prejudice doing for you? What has it done for you lately? Think “Chicano,” what image do you have? Of a short, fat, chili-and-tortilla-eating, lazy, uneducated Mexican-American?

False. Chicanos do not breakfast on tacos and tamales. Chicanos are as concerned with life-work-education-community relationships as any other group. Chicanos have as much to contribute as any other ethnic group in America. We will all be made poorer if we refuse to receive it.

Think “Indian,” what image do you have? Of a dependent, dishonest alcoholic, who lives on government money? That’s untrue, unfair, and unfounded. Indians have made as great a contribution to our cultures as any group in Canada or the United States.

What are we doing with such prejudices? May I suggest we are excusing ourselves for (1) being unmoved by injustice done to others, (2) withdrawing from human need into indifferent safety, (3) enjoying our wealth without admitting that our gain often demands another’s loss, (4) demanding government programs that profit our kind and class while depressing others. And that’s only the beginning.

What have your prejudices done for you lately?

Excused indifference about the whites-only policy in your neighbourhood, apartment building, business, or club? [Remember this was originally written in 1973]

Justified your doing business with restaurants, barber shops, motels, and recreational facilities that welcome only white-Anglo-Saxon-worthies?

Maintained your church as a lily-white organization supporting the status quo?

Bolstered sagging self-confidence by putting down those who are never present to defend themselves?

What function do prejudices perform for you?

They serve some end or they would likely be dropped and forgotten. Become aware of what you’re doing with your collection of racial labels and stereotypes. When you become aware— truly aware—of what you are doing and how you are doing it, you have a choice. You can choose to quit it. Or you can choose to excuse it and continue it.

Let your mind float freely for the next minute and fantasize with me. lt’s morning. You’re rubbing the sleep from your eyes after punching the alarm clock to silence when you notice your hands. They’re brown. Not their natural tan but a deep dark brown. (Or if you’re naturally black, imagine that the hands you hold in front of your eyes are suddenly white.) You stumble out of bed and stand staring in dumb disbelief into the mirror. You’re black. (White.) Overnight through some unexplainable freak act of fate you’ve become another, the other race. The bacon-coffee smells of breakfast tell you that your wife (husband) is in the kitchen. What will she say or do as you enter? Will her eyes scream rejection? Will she recover with that phony smile (too wide, too long, too many teeth showing) that signals rejection while it speaks acceptance? The smile you’ve often given to people of other races?

The men in your car pool, they’ll be stopping by for you in 30 minutes. What will they say? And at the office will there be a new distance separating you from your fellow workers? Will the job still be yours by tonight?

What of your friends? Will they be just as close as before? Your racist brother-in-law, how will you get along with him? And then there’s your church, will you be welcome now? Or will the cold shoulder move you on to the side aisles and out of the door in a short time?

You look closely at yourself in the mirror. You’ve got to go out and face the world, but right now you’re not happy about facing yourself, being the self you are becoming.

Do you find fantasies such as this distasteful? Threatening? Uncomfortable? Do you prefer to avoid discovery of things about yourself and your feelings toward other races?

To be able to see things from another’s point of view is to be truly human, to be fully alive.

To be willing to see life from others’ perspectives is to begin to understand them and to know yourself.

To be concerned about experiencing life from the vantage points—or disadvantage points—of other races and groups is to begin to awaken to life, to the world about you, to responsibility and to love.

Paul has some incisive words at this point. ”Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own… If… life in Christ yields anything to stir the heart… any warmth of affection or compassion… [try] thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity”(Phil 2:4,1-3, NEB).

Try on another’s skin. Listen until you hear his or her point of view. Then get inside it. See how it fits for size. See how it feels to be there where he or she is. See what love is asking you to do.

Hubert Schwartzentruber, a pastor in inner-city Saint Louis, speaks with a prophetic voice on linking Christian love and understanding to Christian action:

“The best gauge to determine what another’s needs are is to take a look at what one’s own needs are. I want to be free to make my decisions. If we then see someone else hindered from making free decisions, we must help to remove that which blocks decision-making and freedom for him.

“If I need a job, then my brother needs one too…

“If I believe that my children need a good education, but many people through no fault of their own do not have my opportunities, then I have an obligation to help make quality education available for their children, too.

“If I have a need for a house for the safety of my family, then I must be concerned about the need of a man who, for a variety of reasons, does not have a safe place in which to house his family…

“If it is for the welfare and the best interest of my family to have health care, then can I be a Christian without also doing something about the needs of those who have no way to obtain proper health care?”

Seeing life from inside another’s needs as well as my own can broaden concern and bring awareness of my responsibility to act. Feeling life from inside another’s skin can shake me loose from complacent enjoyment of my good fortune and calloused indifference to others.

You’re standing, stunned, hardly believing you’ve heard your daughter’s words.

“Are you saying you love this— this—?” You see in her eyes you’d best swallow the racial label.

“I’m not sure,” she replies, “but I think we’re in love, perhaps enough to choose to marry.”

You, of all people, are suddenly at a loss for words. Of all the men (your kind of men) in this world, your daughter gets involved with this— What do you dare call him?—minority person.

”Would you want your daughter to marry one of them?” you’ve often asked as a trump question to silence all arguments about races getting close. Now you’re facing it yourself. And all the old lines about mongrelizing the races seem useless and empty now that it’s your daughter. You could tell her it’s beneath her class, that it just isn’t done by your kind, in your family. (Not that she’ll really listen to all that.)

“No amount of arguments are going to make any difference,” you admit to yourself. “Threats will only cut us off. She is her own person. She will need to make her decisions. It is her life.”

Confronting deeply-believed, firmly-held, emotionally-rooted prejudices is a complex process of initiating change on several levels.

Objections:

As a case in point, let’s explore the strongly-held bias against marriages between people of different racial backgrounds which are often culturally based, religiously expressed, and emotionally argued. Let’s look at the objections as presented and examine them on their own grounds.

Objection one: It’s not biblical. Interracial marriage is forbidden by God. All through biblical history, beginning with Cain, God has followed a strict policy of segregation. He called His people the Jews out of other nations, prohibited intermarriage, kept them separate.

Even the most superficial study of the Bible will show that such separation was on religious grounds only. There is not the slightest hint that color, skin, hair, or shape of skull mattered at all. And the list of great men who married across national-racial lines include Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon. (If you are unclear on this, read Numbers 12, and note God’s attitudes toward segregationists and critics of intermarriage.)

Did the New Testament oppose racial mixtures? “Yes,” say some, quoting Paul, “He [God] made from one every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined… the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26, NASB).

Perhaps you already noticed as I cited this much-quoted passage, that its real point is that “God has made from one every nation of mankind.” We have a common Creator, a common ancestry, a common bloodstream, a common destiny.

Did Jesus and His disciples teach integration or practice mixing of races? Consider how Jesus refused to go along with the apartheid policies against Samaria, and how the apostles welcomed Gentiles and Africans, Jews and Arabs into dth new fellowship. There were no first- and second-class citizens in the new church. (See Gal. 2 and Acts 15.)

There are no biblical arguments against intermarriage. Its message is that all who follow Christ become a new race—or better; that we move beyond all-racial and national distinctions and become one new people—people of God who follow Jesus as Lord. Actually, the Christian faith has no view at all on the problem of race simply because from the Christian point of view there is no distinction between one man and another that allows one man to be set above another. All men are equal before God. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. For those who follow Christ, race is a cultural matter of interest, but of no significance in value, no barrier to relationships, no block to total acceptance.

Objection two: It’s not practical; it can’t be successful. It’s common sense to oppose interracial marriage on the grounds that there is too little in common. The customs, values, and interests are different—perhaps even the language—so the marriage can’t succeed.

Evidence is to the contrary. Japanese-American marriages, with great cultural and linguistic differences, have a lower divorce rate than all-American marriages. A study by Thomas Monahan of 8,000 interracial marriages in Iowa from 1940 to 1967, shows that marriages between Negro men and white women are more stable than all-white marriages and twice as stable as all-black marriages. The same findings come from other studies.

Objection three: It’s biologically bad. Many whites oppose intermarriage because “racial mixture,” they feel, will lead to the degeneration of the white race.’

Dr. Lowell Noble notes on this:

“History reveals that the white man, who seems to regard mongrelization as the worst evil, has in fact, already been responsible for mixing the races. His abuse of the Negro slave woman resulted in thousands of brown or light-skinned Negroes—or should we say dark whites. The logic runs something like this: If the white male is responsible for interracial offspring, no harm is done, since it is the inferior Negro race that is mixed. Such logic is clearly built on white racism.”

The biological facts are all to the opposite. Racial mixture neither damages nor improves the offspring.

Objection four: It’s wrong for the children. They become outcasts. Others oppose interracial marriage because the children must suffer greater discrimination. It is not so. All research indicates that the children suffer no more discrimination than any other minority group.

Dr. James Carse, a historian of Christian faith, speaks to this point.

“Children of such unions will surely experience considerable hardship and disadvantage, is the most commonly heard argument. The fact is, that the ‘hardship and disadvantage’ visited upon such children, arise not out of their ‘mixed’ parentage, but out of their being ‘Negro.’ Disadvantaged? Indeed, because in his most formative years he has before him the model of two persons who have made an ultimate commitment in the face of an issue that hatred has created, the ‘interracial’ child is privileged.”

Having argued the issues raised in support of the racial bias on their own terms, the central concern comes clear.

The core is volitional. The core is the will. What a person wants, wills, values, chooses makes the decisive difference.

At the heart of living in unprejudiced patterns, there are central commitments, such as these:

1. Christians—who seriously try to follow Jesus daily in life—will refuse to make distinctions between one race or another, or to make decisions on the basis of one race being imagined as superior to another.

2. Those who follow Jesus point out dishonesty and discard dishonest beliefs as they discover them. And there is no honest base—biblically, biologically, culturally, or statistically—for fighting or prohibiting interracial marriages.

3. Those who follow Jesus will question and challenge prejudices that separate people, and walls that create distrust between people.

Look at Jesus Christ:

He was bom in the most rigidly ethnic culture of all time; born in a fiercely nationalistic nation; born in Galilee, the most bigoted backwoods of that nation; born into a family of snobbish royal lineage; born in a time when revolutionary fanaticism fired every heart with hatred for the Roman oppressors; born in a country practicing the apartheid of rigid segregation between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus Christ was born in a world peopled with prejudiced, partisan, fanatical, intolerant, obstinate, opinionated, bigoted, dogmatic zealots—Roman, Samaritan, and Jewish. Yet He showed not a trace of it.

Read and reread the documents of His life. There is absolutely nothing to indicate feelings of racial superiority, national prejudice, or personal discrimination.

Those who stand with Jesus Christ stand with all humanity. They discard prejudice whenever, however, and wherever they find it, confronting it in themselves first of all; then, and only then, in the world about them.

For Further Experience:

Become aware of the prejudicial lines that you find running through your thoughts, or appearing in your conversations. Track down the old habit-recordings which play like taped messages from your past. You may not be able to erase these tapes, but you can pull the ear plug, hit the off-switch, refuse to listen.

Become aware of the uses of humor to support old my-race-is-better-than-yours feelings. If you find yourself telling Polack, Newfie, Jewish, Chinese, Negro, Indian jokes (name your favorites), try owning what you’re doing then and there. Put your honest intentions into words.

To break free to venture trust, love, and understanding, consider:

How am I stopping myself from seeing all persons, regardless of race, nationality, culture, as precious just as I am precious?

How am I scaring myself from starting friendships, learning to appreciate the richness of differences, developing genuine empathy for others?

How am I stuck in old prejudiced viewpoints that are unfaithful to the Jesus I want to follow daily in life?

How am I blinding myself by selective exposure, selective attention, selective recall of data conflicting with my views.

How can I move into more open relationships that invite others to confront me where I am scared, stuck, closed, blind?


What has prejudice done for you lately?