For illustrative purposes, we will, initially, conjure up the following bit of fiction.
A 29 year old white mother is escorting her five year old daughter to school; they are walking at a slow pace, hand in hand. The mother, a Barnard College graduate (in American Studies) is a well- educated, forward thinking person and an ardent supporter of civil rights, donating annually to the NAACP and the Urban League, and an outspoken opponent of racial prejudice .They notice another young mother, who it happens, is black, similarly accompanying her young child to school. The white mother’s little daughter feels a very subtle squeeze of her hand, an act, virtually unconscious, of which her mother would be completely mortified if she were made aware of it; the explanation for this dynamic is no less than the fundamental and universal basis for all racial and ethnic prejudice.
Historians will readily identify past episodes of strife and injustice and suggest that such events are the root causes of today’s many ills, offering factual accounts which underlay their theories; we do emphatically disagree.
The horrible bloodshed between Sunni and Shia Muslims as they say, can be traced back to a 7th Century dispute as to the proper method of succession to Prophet Mohammad, either by familial inheritance or by democratic vote. The Greek-Turkish enmity, historians say, dates back to the military defeat of Greece by the Ottoman forces, under Kemal Ataturk. The Irish-English conflicts are fueled by past wars concerning religion and economics; the Protestant-Catholic troubles including the 30 year’s war dating back to Luther. Anti-Semitism, they will tell you is rooted in the scandalous claim that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. These may, in general, be rather accurate depictions of historical events but are, in reality, not at all the dynamic basis for bigotry and prejudice in our modern times.
To our point, as we have previously stated, it is only by the random accident of birth that we acquire our respective features, culture and belief systems. Some, undoubtedly well intentioned parent or other adult soon sows the pernicious seed of “we” and “they” (perhaps to give the child a sense of belonging) in the fertile and imaginative mind of the young person. From such unfortunate implantation, thereafter mythologies about the “other” are created, perhaps then evangelistic inclinations and thereafter, conflict and war. This problem is fundamental and timeless and not founded upon the recalled horrors of the past (undoubtedly due to similar causes). We must consciously and effectively amend our messages to our young concerning “we” and “they” and find a way to inculcate a more appropriate consciousness of an “us” and a respect and appreciation for diversity. Others may have differing belief systems and sometimes even look a little different from us but the young must be taught that we are all life tenants on the planet. This will take generations, much to the justified dismay and impatience of those who are the victims of discrimination, but it seems to be the only effective and enduring way. In the interim, we certainly can be good neighbors and friends to each other
The mother, unaware that she subtly squeezed her daughter’s hand is a good person, but undoubtedly a product of an early “we” “they” upbringing; the daughter is now, unfortunately, another. –p.