Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted February 16, 2015


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a short essay on bigotry

Hate 'Em All

by Spiritual Echo

I have yet to meet a single human being who does not harbour at least a shred of bigotry, including me.

After 9/11 the rage at the atrocity of mass murder began to take shape. It was a plague, a fiery rage that burned our sensibilities and seemed to be reflected in the dark eyes of anyone who looked remotely Arabic. We were afraid. Every rational human being was terrified, and gosh, Almighty, we had good cause...all of us.

Being born and raised in Toronto, I watched Canada become the multi-cultural, immigration melting pot. Despite being the second largest country in the world, geographically, our population, 90% of which is nestled on the northern side of the United States border, is pitifully small. Just 10% of America's, we desperately need repopulation, be it through reproduction or immigration. We need fresh taxpayers, especially as the Baby-Boomers are reaching retirement age.

When I was a child, I experienced prejudice. Our family was the first non-traditional group to move into a WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) neighbourhood. We were the first wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and my family did not live in a European section of the city. My recollections of the taunting about everything from clothing to the rye bread I ate, was attacked by cruel children who had, as yet, never experienced cultural diversity.

My parents were equally biased, hating the blacks and Jews with deep-seated bigotry, and a revulsion they did not bother to camouflage with good manners. Neither parent disguised his or her prejudice, but they lived in an insulated social circle. Neither would ever claim a Jew or
Kenyan as a friend, nor would they think of physically touching a queer--a homosexual. Not that being gay was an open subject; it was a perversion.

They had attitudes about Russians and Asians, but Peter O'Toole romanticized the Arab world in the movie, 'Lawrence of Arabia.' Neither would live long enough to experience a new wave of ignorance, but I have no doubt that had they witnessed the horrific events of that Tuesday morning, they would have excelled at hate-mongering.

I grew up in a household that had an elitist arrogance, even while I was being called names in my own neighbourhood. I didn't inherit my family values, perhaps because I was first generation, Canadian born. My outside influences were much stronger than the vulgarity I heard at home.

I took pride in not being prejudiced. One of my closest friends during my early twenties, was not only Jamaican, but he was a man--a full twenty years my senior. Of course, my mother took great exception to this friendship and could not understand my explanation. I met him at work and saw him every day. He made me laugh, taught me how to make curry and God help me--fruitcake. My mother read everything into this platonic relationship that forty years later, reads like a stereotypical snapshot of bigotry from the seventies. She refused to call him Norris, referring to him as 'jungle bunny' and on the one occasion she was forced to shake his hand, she fled to the bathroom to scrub her hands clean.

I tortured her even further by taking a job in the jewellery industry which was, in most part, dominated by Jewish principals. As she never expected me to amount to anything--women didn't, don't you know--or attain promotion that might put me in direct contact with 'the dirty Jews,' she conceded Jews were good business people. Yeah, tell me about it!

Later, when I switched to the manufacturing sector, the owner of the factory where I became a sales agent, delighted in needling my mother on the very rare occasions when she came to the showroom. Her distaste was apparent, but buying gold at wholesale prices had a greater appeal. It was as if she felt unclean the moment she walked through the door. It was as if there was an alarm button in the president's office. Joe would swoop down from his atrium office and confront her within minutes of her arrival. He surely knew what was going on in her mind.

"Marija, so good to see you," he said, forcing her to shake hands. "There's something we need to discuss."

My mother's intimidation to authority figures was equal to her bigotry. She protested, quietly, saying there was absolutely nothing he could have to talk about with her, but as I watched Joe's eyes glimmer, I knew he was about to bait her, and I felt compelled to warn her.

"Don't believe a word this man tells you," I said in a language he did not understand. "He's full of shit."

Of course, he knew I warned her, but that just made it more fun for the prankster.

"I love your daughter very much. I've asked her to get a divorce so that we can marry immediately."

My mother had a fit. She began spewing in her native tongue, and I admit, I was in hysterical laughter, another thing she did not appreciate. She finally realized that she was on her own.

"You are grown people. You do what you want." These words were accompanied by a small stream of drool that was slithering down her chin. The visual sent both Joe and me further into our mirth.

"But you don't understand," Joe said, all innocent. "I want your blessing."

That incident remained the first topic of conversation whenever I spoke with her, and continued until I changed jobs, regrettably for her, to another Jewish family-run business.

At the time, the industry was dominated by Jews, hard-working men who had built their empires from a single work bench. I was associated, in a trusted management position, for so many years with the company many people automatically thought I too was Jewish. I received as many Chanukah greetings as wishes for a merry Christmas. I was happy to accept and celebrate any holiday.

Most black Canadian immigrants do not have African heritage. The Caribbean Islands, especially Trinidad and Jamaica are the native countries of many New Canadians. Though Toronto has Greektown, Chinatown, Little Italy and India, there is a section of the city described as the Jane Street Corridor that is home for thousands of black families. The area also 'boasts' the highest crime rate in Toronto.

With all the news coming out of America about young black men being shot down by the police, we are hearing, almost daily, about profiling. Whenever crime statistics are released, The Jane Street Corridor's ratios are met with anger and yet the number of crimes committed by blacks is unbelievably high. However, these are also black-on-black assaults, and I've come to the conclusion that numbers are hard to ignore. Having said that, it may have more to do with economics than skin colour.

I can't recall the last shooting in Canada where a black youth was gunned down--thank God! What is newsworthy, are several incidents where mentally ill people have been shot and killed, including the tazering of an eighty-something-year-old woman wandering the streets in the middle of the night with a butcher knife.

As I took stock of all the bigotry I've both harboured and been victim to, the list is staggering.

I retired officially from an industry whose end-user was women, and yet it was dominated for decades by men in positions of power both on the selling and buying side. I faced gender bias and sexual harassment. While I take extreme pride in my role, shattering the glass ceiling, my final position brought me face-to-face with yet a new racial and cultural group.

For the last fifteen years I worked for a company whose marketing office was in Hong Kong, supporting international offices on all continents employing eight hundred people in China. I dipped my toe in the China Sea, rubbed Buddha's belly for luck in Stanley Park and cowered in a restaurant offering snake soup. If I were to aver that cultural, racial, and even gender prejudices doesn't exist in my psyche, I would be lying. I was only too aware of the differences in the people I travelled with in both professional and social circles.

While in Hong Kong, I gravitated towards McDonald's for lunch, in order to avoid the unknown. I was the only Caucasian in the restaurant, seated at a table of four in a crowded restaurant. No one was willing to sit with me.

The world, and thankfully I, have for the most part, shed its protective armour. Saying I embrace diversity would also be a lie. Who among us is not more comfortable with our own kind? Assuming the person I am talking with has a similar mind-set or life experience, is comforting. It eliminates a ton of small talk and lets us slide into a comfort zone of mutual agreement

It is only when we protect our right to ignore the abuse of individuals not afforded the luxury of cultural interaction that I begin to feel the hackles on my neck rise. I become crazed by almond eyes inside a burka. I want to scream. I seriously want to bitch-slap the menial asshole that drags his wife through life as a chattel. Those eyes! The women have no other choice than to accept their lot, and plead soundlessly with me to leave them out of the fight. 'One day,' I mutter as I pass them by. Did we even notice before 9/11?

By proxy, I respond to a plea to leave her alone. I'll shut down my garage sale if a Pakistani offers me a quarter for a hundred dollar price ticket. I'll be tempted, but I won't give an asshole a dose of North American equality, but I won't win--nor will my burka-imprisoned friend. To think I am not deeply offended by her black shroud or blame her in some small way for accepting this crap-- is an understatement. Yet, I acknowledge, it may be my war, but not my battle.

Yes, I have built in prejudice. I make no apologies for caution when I inadvertently find myself walking down a street and a gang of Korean kids begin to swagger. And I already know it's going to cost me something to be a part of the world, the place and time. Sometimes I reach into my survival kit, but always, I know, it costs me...something. I am part of the problem, and I have yet to uncover the solution.

I am not tolerant of stupid people, attitudes of entitlement or power mongers who bully others from a pedestal of implied strength. I can defend, go to war and scream bloody murder, without ever wanting a relationship or identifying with victims. To me, there is a counterbalance to bigotry, it is called justice. To hold a tenet that every life is valuable, requires expression and respect and while I can admit to my prejudices, in no way do I believe that I have the moral right to determine who occupies the square foot of space in the line-up next to me.

Wherever you are, Mama...you were wrong. But listen, if you can. I understand how you got there. Hate remains a powerful defence tool in a confusing world.






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