I've found myself thinking often about prejudice lately as I've been reading terrible newspaper articles about the different prejudices that are raising their heads more and more often, it seems, in horrific and violent ways. I think we probably all have certain prejudices, certain biases, some ways in which we are blind or unaware of things that hurt other groups of people, some stereotypes that affect the way we treat others, understand others or imagine others to be. Even people who work really hard to confront prejudices still have to begin that fight within themselves: looking at our own behaviors that still cause people of color, women, LGBTQ+ folk or others to be treated unfairly, to be pushed down economically or in terms of access to resources, to be treated as inferior or "less than" in one way or another. Some of the standard prejudices that are more often named in my own personal circles include racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, Islamophobia, prejudice against people of differing abilities... but lately I have been intrigued by the reality that even people who make their livelihoods fighting certain prejudices still often carry and enact other prejudices, usually ones they can't see, own or name. I know far too many people, for example, who are actively fighting racism, who are completely unaware of their own sexism and the behaviors they exhibit that harm people who are not cis-male. Others actively fighting sexism are prejudiced against LGBTQ+ folk. Some of this I struggle to understand. I have been contacted repeatedly recently by someone who has been harmed by and struggles to fight the prejudice against people with differing abilities and illnesses. At the same time, she is one of the most condemning and hateful people I know towards LGBTQ+ folk. Her words are venomous and her actions spiteful. And I am absolutely convinced that she does more harm towards these folk than she does good for the people with disabilities whom she is trying to help. It is even harder for me to understand when people are hating in the name of God. I've come to believe that we actually worship different gods. My God is accepting, loving, wants wholeness and justice and healing for all people, for all creation. The god some of these other people worship seems to be focused on judgment, condemnation and cruelty. I don't know that god, thankfully, and have only encountered him (yes, necessarily male, in this culture at least) through the eyes of those who worship him. Their worship of that angry, hateful entity scares me and I believe is the cause of much harm in our world.
I've also found myself becoming, once again, more aware of other, more subtle prejudices: ones that are not yet in the focus of our society, ones that are much more "acceptable" but every bit as harmful and may be a big part of the cause of at least some of the violence we've been seeing recently. It has been acceptable for quite some time now, for example, to express prejudice towards people who aren't as talented or gifted at social skills. There is a strong prejudice towards introverted people as well, a strong bias for those who are more charismatic and outgoing in our culture. I've found myself reflecting on this as I remembered a conversation in which an extremely socially gifted person wanted to start a support group but informed me that he did not want to invite "W" because... well, "W" just wouldn't fit in. Right. "W" has Asperger's. So, no, he would not fit in with this socially charismatic, popular, charming group of people. But he does need the support such a group would offer. He does need that friendship. He does need that care. The other folk in this group? Well, again, they are all charming, popular, charismatic folk. They don't actually NEED this support group, unlike the person being excluded. The person organizing the group prides himself on his awareness, on his care for the underdog, on his ability to empower the marginalized. But he fails to see this particular marginalized group, or to feel they are worthy of his support and care.
I am not immune to this either and I know this. I work hard to see, accept, love every person and to try to understand the ways in which I contribute to their well being or their marginalization. But I'm not always going to see it, it will always be something I work on, and sometimes, probably even often, I will get it wrong. Still, I try. I think learning our own prejudices and working to fight them is something God would call us to do. The call to love our neighbors as ourselves is a call to see them, understand them, empower them as we would want done for ourselves. My challenge, then, for all of us is to always look deeper at who we love, who we reject, and for what reasons. My challenge then is always to strive for more compassion, greater grace, and deeper commitment to empowering and uplifting one another.