Practicing What We Preach

Prejudice. Are you prejudiced? Most people would like to believe that they are not. However, when you first read the word and the question, what did you think? Was I asking about people of color, ...

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Prejudice. Are you prejudiced? Most people would like to believe that they are not. However, when you first read the word and the question, what did you think? Was I asking about people of color, about one's religion, one's sexual orientation or one's ethnicity? Or was I referring to your favorite baseball or football team?

Prejudice is an attitude. How that attitude is applied will determine whether or not your attitude is positive or negative. A negative attitude usually results in a discriminating person.

The Ku Klux Klan promulgates negative material about a lot of different types of people and encourages very discriminating behavior. They foster hate that often leads to violence.

In our own larger community, prejudice is infectious. However, it wears many dangerous faces. It shows itself in many lethal ways.

We continue to struggle with biases around color and ethnic origins. People are prejudiced because of your religion, whether you are Catholic, Jewish, Born Again, Evangelical or Jehovah's Witness. These prejudices are more subtle today because it is not politically correct to be prejudiced against religion or a person's religious beliefs.

We are prejudiced based on ethnicity and whether someone is documented or undocumented. We judge people and exclude people based on their sexual orientation, arrest record and drug history.

The list of other subtle biases is endless. Unfortunately, more often than not those negative prejudices impair our judgment and impede our positive action. These kinds of prejudices are fueling the hate and violence that is escalating around the country.

Prejudice is a learned attitude and negative discrimination is a learned behavior. These negative attitudes and behaviors are being learned in our classrooms, in our churches, in our neighborhoods and on our ball fields.

Oftentimes they begin as un-addressed negative comments and actions. Our children learn from what they hear and see. Prejudice is not an inborn attitude, it is a learned notion. Discrimination is a learned behavior.

We live in a world where people are quick to make fun and put people down all in the name of humor. However, oftentimes the receivers of those put-downs do not see the humor in it. It is there that the wounds begin and sometimes never heal.

The other danger with making prejudicial comments is too often people then generalize about whole groups of people in ways that are not true or fair.

Probably the most destructive form of prejudice beyond that of color, religion and sexual orientation is judging a book by its' cover.

Few people like to be judged by externals, by the color of one's hair or skin, by tattoos, earrings or the social circumstances we get trapped in.

As much as we hate all of these judgments, we tend to put people in boxes or kick them to the curb, depending on these variables.

For teenagers, race and religion are less of an issue in our community than the family you come from, the way you carry yourself and if you have tattoos or body piercings. Parents make the way you look and where you are from a big deal.

JK was just released from jail. He was serving time for doing and selling drugs. He was only sixteen when he was arrested by an undercover cop. He plead his charges down but still had to do fourteen months in prison. He was released at seventeen and a half.

While in jail, JK was unable to finish high school. Once released he worked hard to get his GED and enroll in Suffolk Community College. He learned his lesson but continues to be burdened by his poor choices.

Many people in his neighborhood know the poor choices he made in high school. They also know the price he paid for his recklessness. He has been labeled by some in his community as a dirt bag. Other families have forbidden their children to connect with him because he had used drugs and was in prison.

None of those adults who have labeled and condemned JK have taken the time to have a conversation with him. They do not know him as a person. They knew his labels and about his poor decisions, but they did not take the time to know him before they judged him and kicked him to the curb. They never looked at whether he had changed or what he might be doing with his life now, after jail.

QR is a senior in high school. Up until two years ago, his life was a disaster. He rebelled against his parents' divorce and the on-going conflict around his mother's need for control. By his sophomore year in high school, QR was in danger of living in the street.

After an outrageous confrontation, QR left his home. He made an attempt to make it on his own. It failed miserably. For a few months he wandered aimlessly. Finally, tired of having no direction and no stability, he sought support and guidance.

He re-enrolled in high school. He tried out, made two varsity teams and made a valuable contribution to each. He re-organized his priorities and got his life back on track. He changed his look, his attitude and his direction.

In June, he will graduate from high school with two varsity letters and a small scholarship to a college he will be attending in the fall. In September of his senior year, QR developed a serious relationship with a girl from school. When they were just friends, her parents loved him. He opened up with them like he never did before. He spoke about where he had been because he wanted them to know how much he had changed and how much respect he had for their daughter.

As soon as they became a couple, he parents vehemently opposed the relationship to the point that they were forbidden to go as dates to the senior banquet. Her parents did not want pictures of them as a couple.

The tragedy of this story is that this young man has really transformed his life. His honesty and candor about where he had been is being used against him. How does one change if forgiveness is never genuinely offered? How does one start anew if one's past is a ball and chain around one's neck?

QR has proven that he is a changed person. The prejudice being leveled against him is insidious and reprehensible. How do we teach young people about change, starting over and forgiveness if we don't practice what we preach?