Question of the Day: Hate is Learned Edition

Not too long ago, Pam and I had an interesting conversation in which we recalled becoming aware of race (and racism) for the first time. Both of us were surprisingly old, but the longevity of our naïveté was not because we were insulated; both of us lived in diverse communities (she more so than I) and had friends of other races. It was, perhaps, because of that, that the first time we heard someone singled out as being somehow “different” because of his or her race, it seemed almost shocking. For me, it was a friend telling me her mother would never let her date the boy I was going out with. When I asked why, she replied, “Because he’s a spic.” So matter-of-fact. It was the moment I became aware of racism as a practice, rather than just an abstract concept about which I'd heard, and really, the first time I ever thought about what “race” really meant. Until that point, it was if “blonde” and “black” had approximately the same connotation to me—neutral descriptors about what someone looked like.

And I remember hearing the definition of “gay” for the first time as a child and having no reaction other than, “Okay,” to it—never did I experience any visceral fear or discomfort with it. It was only later, when a neighbor boy got mad at me and called me gay, that I had my first inkling there were people who didn’t think gay was okay, and that if they called you gay, it was supposed to be bad, to make you feel bad. That’s when I first became aware of homophobia.

I also recall my dad, a great athlete and a multi-sport high school coach, being asked if he was disappointed that he’d had two daughters. For a moment, I didn’t even understand what was meant by the question. As the realization sunk in, I remember my cheeks flushing; I felt mad and ashamed. My parents were disgusted by the question, which made me feel better, but that first experience with sexism has stayed with me to this day.

I was raised by parents who never used slurs, never discriminated against anyone, and took me to a church where racism, intolerance of other religions, homophobia, and the like were never preached. Yet, by the time I reached adulthood, I had become aware of every stereotype in the book. I had learned them, unwittingly, at school, in the neighborhood, outside my home. I chose not to believe what racists, homophobes, and sexists believed, but I could not avoid their reach.

So, I'm interested to see how we all individually learn about these things. Do you remember the first time you first became aware of one kind of bigotry or another? Raised in a prejudiced family? Experienced prejudice yourself...?

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