Prejudices, like addictions, hurt everyone

Compassion and humanity wiped out in the process

This month’s column is a follow up from my June 13 column as I have received some interesting comments about that article.

One such conversation went like this: “I did not realize that I had so many ‘subtle’ addictions. It really made me more compassionate toward people who are battling ‘overt’ addictions. Thanks for broadening my understanding of addictions. Previous to your article on addictions I saw myself as ‘separate’ from ‘those’ who have an addiction.”

On listening to this individual’s comment I was reminded of the ‘prejudices’ each of us hold in our mind and heart. Most often today’s media uses the word ‘prejudice’ when describing tensions between two culturally different groups of people. But like addictions, prejudices comes in all shapes and sizes and take on a life of its own within us.

YouTube has two versions of a similar situation. The First Video (2005) is about a religious congregation waiting to meet their new pastor. But on that same Sunday the new pastor was to be introduced to the congregation by the present pastor, a homeless man sat outside the church. People who were going into the church pretended not to see the homeless man with his empty cup and proceeded into the church service. Then, the homeless man entered the church and started to walk up the centre aisle. He did not get far before an usher asked him to stay at the back of the church, which he humbly did.

Then the present pastor invited the new pastor to come to the front of the church. The congregation clapped enthusiastically to welcome their new pastor. The homeless man proceeded up the centre aisle to the front of the church. Naturally, the congregation was puzzled and shocked to see the homeless man beside their present pastor who said “please welcome your new pastor.” A silence fell over the congregation as the disguised pastor took off his shabby clothes and removed his artificial beard. Then he addressed the congregation, “I wanted to know what level of spirituality my new congregation had before starting to work with you.”

He related to them that not one member of the congregation put anything into his empty cup, nor acknowledged his presence. Obviously, members lowered their heads in shame as they knew their prejudice had taken away their compassion and even humanity.

The second video (2018): Homeless Man…is a Pastor? was made by a pastor in Chicago after having viewed the 2005 video. This pastor also disguised himself as a homeless man one Sunday morning and sat on the church steps prior to the service. However, to his great surprise and encouragement his congregation responded to him (as a homeless man) very favourably. If you have not yet seen this video, I recommend you consider watching it.

These modern videos are not completely original in the way they blatantly show how prejudice hurts everyone. In 1965, I read John Howard Griffin’s book Black Like Me. Griffin was a journalist and wrote his book in 1961 to demonstrate how prejudice affected America in the workplace.

As a Caucasian, he interviewed for high level management jobs with high-paying salaries to match. He was hired, as he had very good academic credentials. Dressed in expensive suits he daily favoured respectable restaurants in the area at lunch time. Naturally, the door attendants welcomed the business man dressed so smartly into their restaurant with no hesitation.

A few months later, Griffin injected himself with black pigments to make his white skin a dark brown. In this disguise, as an African American, he applied for high level management jobs with the exact same academic credentials as he had when he was Caucasian, but after the first interview he never got hired. He also went to the same respectable restaurants dressed in the same expensive suits as he went to for lunch as a Caucasian male, but was denied entrance.

Prejudices like addictions hurt everyone. I cannot consciously eliminate my prejudices (by telling myself that I am not prejudice) as prejudices are unconscious reactions. But, I can consciously stop myself from acting out on my prejudices.

(Kathleen Kelly is a Chemainus resident and author of the book ‘The Tornadoes We Create.’)

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