The main character reflects on troubling prejudices and biases uncovered at book club.
|Not Me Said I
January 20, 2017
That’s the trouble with being a writer. Everyone you meet could be the makings of a character in your next story. You don’t mean for it to happen. It just does.
Take the five women who get together as a group to sip wine and discuss a recent book they’ve read. This month’s book, Small Great Things, is an exposé of sorts. It opens your consciousness of prejudice and racism the way a pinch of wasabi does your sinuses. Wholly and by surprise. It’s a sensation you don’t easily forget.
Afterwards, you feel like your senses have been failing you all this time.
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” the woman across the room stated as if she were making a confession. “I grew up in Iowa. Where we lived, there were no Blacks. There were no Asian people. No Mexicans. Everyone was white. I’ve just never known prejudice. Never been exposed to it really.”
“I’m not prejudiced either,” said the soft spoken woman hosting the group. “But my husband, he makes remarks that I don’t think he even hears. When he’s watching sports on TV, he’ll say something like…’well these black players are built like they have springs in their feet’…then he’ll go back to watching the game. Like he’s just stated fact.”
“Prejudice and racism are two different things,” said the rosy-cheeked woman seated in the center of the group as she reached for her second glass of white wine. “Prejudice is how you feel and racism is how you speak and act. When I was a gymnastics coach, we had to go through all kinds of sensitivity training to be able to spot our prejudices and not let them color our actions.”
“I remember,” she continued, “there was this little black girl. She wasn’t a student of mine, but we became very close.” The little girl and her family had nothing. Her father was out of work and her mom had to stay home with her younger siblings while he looked for a job. They lived in a shelter.
“Anyway, I was able to talk to a few people in our school and it led to the little girl’s father getting a job as a janitor.” The woman went on to explain that one day the little girl came to her and told her the father had gotten a better job and the family would be moving into an apartment soon. The little girl couldn’t wait to have her own bedroom, her own space.
But then the coach learned the family had no furniture.
“What? No furniture. What do you mean?” she had asked the little girl. No couch. No bed. No kitchen table and chairs. No dishes or forks or knives. They had nothing. So the woman went through her house and collected all the things they didn’t need or want and drove them to the little girl’s new apartment. “The last I heard,” she said proudly to the group and took a deep sip from her glass of wine, “the family ended up buying a house. A very small house, nothing fancy, in a kind of run-down neighborhood.”
“But it's their house,” blurted the woman from Iowa.
All of the women seemed satisfied with their shared sensibilities and that they had explored the topic fully. So the conversation ambled down a side street.
“The real problem is our welfare system,” said the woman whose husband is an engineer and who can’t watch or hear hurtful things as it affects her too deeply. “It rewards people for not working, not getting a job. It becomes ingrained, this belief that you don’t have to work; the government will take care of you.”
“Yes,” said the woman from Iowa who, in her earlier life, had worked as an obstetrics nurse for a government social services agency. “The more children these people have, the more money the government gives them—regardless of whether they have any intention of taking care of those children. Then they become wards of the state.”
“Maybe they don’t know any other way,” posed the woman sitting cross-legged nearest the front of the room. “Maybe it’s all they’ve ever known.”
“It is,” confirmed the engineer’s wife. “It’s in their DNA. It’s part of their culture.”
“I’d like to believe,” said the cross-legged woman, “that in today’s world with its glut of computers and social media and TV promoting nothing but wealth and prosperity…with everyone having…or being made to feel they need to have…all this stuff…that they’d see and want more. I’d like to believe that the desire for more will lead them to break out of that life.”
“It won’t,” summed up the engineer’s wife. “They’re happy with the way it is.”
Walking the short distance home to start dinner, the book club conversation churns in her mind. She’s not sure about the distinction between prejudice and racism. Both are grounded in assumptions, she believes, formed by layer upon layer of experiences and hardened feelings like something made of paper-mâché. Impossible to separate without destroying what’s there, she thinks and wonders if any of us will ever be able to understand and appreciate others who are unlike us. Especially when we can see so little of ourselves.
Copyright 2017, Denise Lynn
© Copyright 2017 Denise (hardatwork at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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