Thoughts on America’s Melting Pot and Prejudice

Yesterday, I had the dubious pleasure of flying home from a visit to my sister.  She lives in Virginia, not too far from Washington DC.  It also happened to be the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.

I’ll fully admit to being slightly disconcerted by this fact.  My time waiting at the airport to board my plane made it clear others felt the same disquiet.  It didn’t help that terrorist plots had been uncovered and that every television was tuned into the memorial services at Ground Zero.

It also didn’t help that from my vantage point, at least a dozen individuals of Arabian descent also waited for their planes.

Observations over the next hour made me a bit ashamed of the melting pot we call home.

We clearly hadn’t melted.

Not that airports are the friendliest places to begin with, but the cold-shoulder literally sent goosebumps over my arms.  A ring of empty chairs surrounded each small group of dark-skinned, dark-haired, turbaned individuals in an otherwise crowded place.  People either averted their eyes or openly stared.  Nobody cracked a smile or passed along a kind word. 

Folks, I’m just gonna throw this out there.  We have all been the outcast at some point.  By America’s very nature–by human nature–our heritages come from the oppressed and disgraced.  We are all the product of some form of derision based on where we came from or what we believed.  Our blood–and our pasts–are not pure.  And yet, we strive to break free of the connotations that once defined–in the eyes of those feeling supreme–our genetic history.

We fail to consider that, while we are shaped by our heritages, we should not be stereotyped by the past.  Nor should we stereotype our present.

My German ancestors do not make me a Nazi.  Heck, by the time World War II broke out, they had already melted in America for generations and fought for their new homeland.  Likewise, I couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow to save my life despite the Native American blood that mingles with the rest of my genetic code. 

I’ll venture to say that the families in the airport were not responsible for the terrorist attacks a decade ago.   

My heart aches for the loss on September 11, 2001.  Families were torn apart and a hole was left in our collective conscience–physically via the Twin Towers and emotionally via our current state of cultural fear.

When our flight was called, two young men of obvious Arabian descent stood and gathered their things.  They had been sitting beside me, conversing quietly in their native tongue.  A total of eight people prepared to board and I commented to the men that our final destination didn’t seem very popular.

Immediately, the masks they wore fell away and they grinned back at me.  For one brief moment in the wake of pain and discomfort, they had become human.  Accepted and not judged by actions that were not their own.  That tiny act of kindness allowed them to melt into the greatness of America. 

Dear readers, I challenge you to examine your prejudices, stereotypes and fears as they pertain to the people you encounter each day.  Are these biases founded in the reality of your life, or are they part of a more collective mindset?  Can you break them and make the difference in someone else’s day?  Do you even want to?

You don’t have to publicly answer those questions, but I would like you to consider the legacy you are leaving behind.  Because, really, we alone are responsible for our actions and the impact we make in our homes, our communities and our world history.   

You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

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26 responses to “Thoughts on America’s Melting Pot and Prejudice

  1. Wow, this is so beautifully put. Thank you for sharing that experience. Ya know, my Mom was ostracized for her German name and accent as a child (so much so my Grandparents forced all of their children to speak English), but no one notices now. If my husband had been born a generation or two earlier he would have been belittled for his 6’2 height and high Cherokee cheeks, but most women find that attractive nowadays.

    I hope that the culture of fear we’ve allowed ourselves to bathe in will eventually drain away just as the dislike for the Germans and Japanese eventually did after WWII.

    As my pastor pointed out yesterday, we trust in God and have nothing to fear. And God tells us to love one another.

    • Victoria,

      So true. What is scary and degrading today may well be in vogue tomorrow. This alone is heartbreaking because it highlights just how unimportant these things really are–and how easily we are swayed and our opinions herded.

      I wholeheartedly agree with your pastor.

      Hugs~

  2. What a beautiful, eloquent post, Cate! It is a sad thing what fear and discrimination can do to people. My brother-in-law was just relating a story of how his friend of Iranian descent but born and raised in America and is therefore an American, has to endure extreme airport security measures simply because of the color of his skin. And he is the kindest, soft-spoken person who would not even hurt a fly, so to speak. Yet, people stare at him coldly as the airport security officials strip him down and make him wait forever before letting him board the plane. It’s a hard, cruel line. And then again, you hear in the news how would-be terrorists somehow manage to get on a plane undetected. How does that happen?

    My hubs’ grandpa who was in a wheelchair and had knee replacements set off the security detector. Despite the fact that he had a signed certificate from his doctor to verify his knee replacements, the security officials made him get off his wheelchair and asked him to take off his pants. True story. Not only did they harassed this poor old man, who would soon die not too far from that day, but they also humiliated him. And yet, they let would-be terrorists pass through their gate.

    It’s hard to process such things.

    • Cherie,

      Thanks so much for sharing these stories. It saddens me greatly to hear how we allow ourselves to forget the hearts and souls behind the faces and names. We hurt so many people along the way and yet, somehow, feel justified because of the mob mentality that drives our fear beyond what is reasonable.

      Maybe I’ve just seen too much in life to believe that any of us have the right to judge others, particularly based on something so ridiculous as the color of our skin, the accents with which we speak or the religion (or lack thereof) in which we believe.

      Hugs and thoughts your way~

  3. Well said, Cate! A subject near and dear to my heart.

    I recently watched a documentary on The History Channel via NetFlix about a research firm conducting studies on human genetics. It was not only really interesting, but humbling and enlightening as well.

    They took DNA from a wide variety of people at a street fair in Queens, New York. There were people from all walks of life, and from all over the world. Step by step, they showed how all of these different people were related in some way through their genetics, going down their unique family trees.

    At the end, people were crying, and feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of belonging. There were African Americans who learned they were European, and there was a Irish/Korean couple that were struggling to find a way for the Korean’s parents to accept her Irish mate…they discovered that they had the same genetic coding and are hoping this will make a difference so that they can be married.

    It was really emotional, and reading your post brought all of that back to me. As a people, we need to let go of the old stereotypes and judgments and take people as they are.

    Excellent post!

    ~ Kate

    • Kate,

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. I followed you home and enjoyed very much the beauty of your own message yesterday. The heartening thing is seeing so many others who share our beliefs of love and acceptance speak out on the blogs I frequent.

      I apprecaite your views and the eloquent way you share them.

      ~cat

  4. As the caucasian parent of brown skinned children, I am keenly aware of the way others look at our family. I could write a book about our experiences as a visibly diverse family (I won’t, others have and they are much more eloquent than I).

    There is a double (triple?) standard at work. When I am out with my boys we often recieve smiles and warm looks from other people of color. When my husband is with, we see these less often. It is as though the possiblity of a brown skin father weighs heavily in the opinions of others, and is viewed positively. When my fair skinned hubbie is with us the reality of two white parents with two brown boys is more than many can accept. Interestingly the looks don’t change from warm to hostile, rather the looks become fleeting and quickly become not existent, as though our family isn’t present.

    I accept this dynamic. The kids aren’t quite aware yet. They are aware of how people are different. Youngest struggles mightily with his beautiful brown skin and wants desparately to have white skin. Recently he went up to a teenage boy and said, “I hate black skin” and ran away. I didn’t hear the exchange directly and was not able to find this young man to apologize. We have, almost daily, conversations about race in our home. At all turns we talk about accepting all people regardless of what they look like, we practice being patient and kind to others and yet this is what an 8 year old boy does in the two minutes he is away from his mother.

    The journey of our country and its tolerance (or lack of) will continue to be a long one. Each generation addresses it. Each successive generation grows, but new ones must continue on their learning journey. But, each of us can, in our own small way make a difference. Your eye contact and simple statement spoke volumes to your traveling colleagues. Simple acts of tolerance go a very long way to making a difference.

    • Becca,

      Your brown-skinned babies are beautiful and it is the loss of the masses for not appreciating them and your family. As parents, all we can do is lead by example and teach our children kindness, compassion and acceptance. In time, they will learn by following our actions. Hopefully, in the meantime, the disregard shown by others will not taint your boys’ natural love and exuberance.

      Hugs and thanks for sharing~

  5. …just wanted to correct myself…the program I watched was by National Geographic, and it’s called “The Human Family Tree” =)

  6. Thanks for this post! I saw planes flying overhead yesterday and wondered “Who is flying on 9/11, and how are they handling all the complexities of that?” And the fear…I was glad to be on the ground.
    Thanks for your recent visits to my blog, too. Your comments are much appreciated.

    • : ) I love visiting good blogs, and you are a highlight on my blog rounds. Sassy and full of pizzazz.

      When I realized I’d be flying on 9-11, I thought the same thing. “Who in the hell would fly on such a date?” Then the second thought hit. My Dear Hubby made my flight arrangements for my 40th birthday present. Maybe he was trying to bump me off and make way for a younger model?!?!?

      LOL! I’m glad I had the opportunity, though, because it really was a sharp reminder about how we successfully–or unsuccessfully–navigate life.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  7. Good for you! Lovely post. One of the things that attracted me to Star Trek (no, I’m not off topic) when I was a kid was the way everyone was treated as a person first (well, except the Klingons and even they got integrated in the next series…). I really think/hope we’re moving in the right direction. The kids in my class are shocked when I discuss the things Martin Luther King Jr went through and WW1 & 2 and slavery and other acts of injustice and prejudice. Every year I get comments like, “Wow. How could people act like that,” and “Isn’t it great that people don’t act like that any more.” I teach in a culturally diverse school and it’s such a thrill to hear comments like that. Gives me lots and lots of hope for our futures.

    • Your Star Trek comment hits home with me. I think this idea is a driving force behind the way I write. Kids deserve to be represented across the board, for who they are, how they feel and what they believe.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Okay – previous comment was from me – don’t know why it posted before I finished signing in… tech stuff is NOT my thing this week!

  9. Yikes! I don’t know what’s going on! My whole comment disappeared now… *sigh*

    In a nutshell, I said — Good for you! I have lots of hope for the future. The kids in my class don’t understand prejudice. When I discuss historical events with them, I get comments like, “Wow – how could people do that?” and “Isn’t it great no one feels like that anymore.” I have a culturally diverse group of kids and they really don’t have any prejudices about each other. It’s awesome!

    • Well, have you considered that they have an awesome teacher? Kids learn best through their mentors.

      And your first comment came through as a new commentor, but you have wonderful insight in that one as well, so I’m going to post both. LOL! Maybe my cranky computer is playing tricks on both of us.

  10. Wow. And again I say Wow. Excellent post.

    Such a tough look at ourselves. And yet we need to see it. Each person is their own person and the Arabian passengers weren’t related to the terrorists of a decade ago anymore than I am related to Timothy McVeigh. Sometimes it’s just hard to see it though.

    BTW, on a funny note, I think(hope) my kids have no concept of prejudice. My son thought his very white, green eyed teacher was chinese because her last name was Yen. I explained that she’s not Chinese, she is married to a Chinese man. “Oh. Really? Okay.” And that was it. He didn’t care either way. But it sure cracked me up.

    • Kellie,

      Yeah, human nature makes it hard to really dig into ourselves. It’s so much easier to see the flaws in others…kind of like writing that way! I love your story about your son. It highlights the awesome life lessons he must be getting at home. You can be proud that you’ve given him an unbiased view of the world and the people who inhabit it.

      Thanks for sharing. It brightened my morning!

  11. An amazing post, Cat!! I think too often people have a need to categorize things, including others, and they forget that the one category we all have in common is that we’re all human, we’re all individuals, who love, and yearn, and feel.

    • Beautifully said, Cali. I think you’re right about our psyche and the need to put things into neat little bundles. It helps us cope on a global level with minimal effort. However, that very thinking is what breaks my heart because, above all else, people are individuals and should be loved because of that not.

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

  12. I’m still waiting for a world without borders. And wish more Americans watch “My name is Khan” and remember it when they travel or at home. We’re all children of the same god, not matter how we call him. And sorry I can’t quote Jesus in English, but I read him mostly in Italian, but you know what I mean, don’t you?

  13. I love you. Thanks for this post. That is all. 🙂

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