A couple of weeks ago, Sunshine visited the Holocaust Museum in Houston. It really made an impression on her and I asked her to write a little about what had been stirring around. She challenges us all to THINK!
All my life, I have been subjected to stereotypical prejudices. I was never really bullied or anything, and most of the time I’m able to shrug it off. But even now, at 25, married for 6 years, graduated from college, and paying my own way, I’m still putting up with it. The fact is, we all make assumptions about people based on their looks, and most of the time, we’re wrong.
Let’s review: I’m a young, small, blonde female. I drive a BMW. I am married. I go to a Southern church with a Baptist background. I eat at Chick-Fil-a.
So the stereotypes say that I’m stupid, anorexic, too inexperienced to know anything, spoiled, that I’m a prude, I hate gays, I hate alcohol and people who drink it, I hate having a good time, and I’m holier-than-thou.
I recently cut off 8 inches of my blonde hair in an attempt to look my age. Not because I wanted to cut it (in fact, I didn’t!), but because I’m so tired of hearing, “You teach high school? You look like you could be in high school!” Most other times, it doesn’t bother me. As my sister said, we’re all pretty much obnoxiously confident. But other people aren’t obnoxiously confident- many people are not confident at all. Thinking these stereotypical thoughts about others and worse, speaking or acting on them, demeans other people and makes them feel worthless and unloved.
I visited the Holocaust Museum of Houston last week. What a testament to the Jewish people! I was impressed by the museum but greatly saddened by the content. Hitler and his men hated these people based on a stereotype. Hitler and his men were responsible for the extermination of about six million people… based on a stereotype. Folks, that was not that long ago. A quote in a book from one of the survivors says, “It happened, therefore it can happen again. That is the core of what we are trying to say.” (Primo Levi)
Part of the exhibit drew a parallel between the Hitler administration and the Jim Crow laws of the South US, prior to Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954. 1954! Not that long ago! Not that long ago, we were seriously limiting people in their lives, education, church, freedoms- all based on a stereotype. Although that case stopped “segregation,” it did not stop feelings of hatred between culture groups. White people hate black people. Black people hate white people. Yellow people hate black and white people. We all hate each other based on a stereotype. We think that we’re not racists because we don’t lynch people, or we don’t use racial epithets, or we aren’t a member of a hate group. Yet if we make racial jokes – even if we say we don’t mean them – then we are displaying racist attitudes.
My strong conviction in the last week is to do all I can to stop hatred, and stop stereotypes. I know that I can’t reach the world, but I do know that I can reach my small group of students. I can make my classroom (yes, I teach high schoolers, although I realize that I look like one myself) a safe place for students of all backgrounds and cultures, and I can stop them from making hateful or stereotypical comments in my classroom. I can hope that these lessons will follow them outside of the classroom, into their lives, and the lives of their families.
Where is your mission field? Where can you educate people about the damage done by stereotypes? Where can you start loving and stop hating? It wasn’t that long ago, folks. It happened, and it can happen again. Where do you want to stand when it does?