Where do “isms” come from?
You know, the nasty ones: racism, sexism, ageism, etc.
A much-older relative (not my parents, to be clear) once told me the “natural order” is to congregate with your own kind.
That’s the case for a reason, the relative said, and “God’s will” dictates we live the way our nature pushes us, sort of how we should always go with our first instinct when answering a question on a test.
Mind you this same relative, just as I do, believed the Christian teaching that we’re all born sinners, something my then-teenage self pointed out and the conversation soon ended because I was being “disrespectful.”
When I was a little older, a teacher — who disavowed prejudice of any kind — echoed the belief these “isms” are indeed born in us all, and it’s society’s responsibility to teach children out of that nature.
While I wholly discount my relative’s view and have long been skeptical of the teacher’s, any vestiges of either went up in smoke for me Tuesday at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.
Pfeiffer’s long overdue tonsillectomy appointment brought my wife and I there, and as we waited to register, three little black children were playing with toys in the front lobby. Pfeiffer, who is 2, wanted to join, and she and the oldest little girl in the group, who was probably 6, became fast friends.
We all were headed to the surgery waiting area on the sixth floor, and our families ended up riding the elevator together.
Once we arrived in the family waiting room, Pfeiffer and the girl played more with the toys in there. Pretty soon, two young Hispanic boys and a white boy — none older than 9 — had joined the group.
All were playing cooperatively and peaceably, sharing turns with the toys, being kind and, most notably, not having to be told to do any of those things.
At one point, they were all sitting on a little wooden bench in front of a bowling video game.
“They should take a picture of that and use it for promotional material,” my wife said.
These kids were all strangers. They didn’t know each other’s names, and they didn’t care. They also didn’t care about race, gender, age or religion. None of them mentioned Trump, Obama or any other political subject. They just played together, untainted by bias and without the slightest hint of hesitation to suggest anything would be wrong with that.
None of their parents stopped them either, a fact worth noting.
When it was our turn to head to pre-op, the 6-year-old girl came and hugged Pfeiffer goodbye, and both kids left the embrace smiling. It all seemed pretty natural to me.
For years, I’ve been convinced that prejudice is taught — either out of hate, fear, convenience, greed, power or for some other ill-conceived reason — and Tuesday reinforced my belief. It has no basis in reason or science. It only exists in the hearts of those who want it there. And if you want to remove it from your own lifestyle badly enough, you can.
Southern history, in particular, is marred with deliberately ignorant racial strife. Quite literally, there are people who will read this column who lived in a time where it was thought to be some kind of health violation for blacks and whites to drink from the same water fountain — a society where race brazenly dictated place and those at the top of the pecking order violently fought to keep it that way.
We’ve certainly come far since those days, but racism, along with so many other prejudices, remains for reasons that lack a valid defense outside of what people are taught should make them comfortable.
So, instead of continuing to teach those prejudices to yet another generation, maybe we could learn from the children around us whose “nature” suggests they don’t give a flying flip about such divisions.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.