Sunday, October 10, 2010


Several years ago on the way home from work after an exceptionally busy day, I drove through a Taco Bell and placed an order. The lady at the window took my order and repeated it back to me. Her English was very difficult to understand and I had to repeat my entire order to make sure we were saying the same words. I got home and discovered my order was wrong. This happened several times because neither of us could understand the other.

After one particularly bad mistake, I phoned the manager and politely suggested that she place people in the drive-through positions that had the best command of English so as to minimize the kind of mistake I was continuing to experience in my order. The manager, herself a Hispanic but much more fluent in English, told me in so many words to stop being such a racist!

To be politically correct in today’s climate, I should not complain at all. I should take my order home and eat it without complaint whether or not it was what I ordered. To do otherwise brands me as prejudiced, or worse, bigoted.

I have always thought I was not prejudiced, but what I have started to hear in myself is an “attitude.” I hear myself saying I will live next door to anyone of any color as long as they are peaceable and keep their yard in the manner the neighborhood has established for itself. I have to remind myself that it is not only “foreigners” who don’t conform to the social standards I think are proper. For some reason it is easier to think that foreigners are the culprits – and that is bigotry.

During the High Holy Days in the Jewish religion there is a special day called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On Erev Yom Kippur, there is a congregational confession of sin, in which the entire congregation stands and we each lightly tap our chest as we recite an alphabet of sins common to mankind: arrogance, bigotry, cynicism, deceit and egotism, flattery and greed….and near the last is the sin of xenophobia, the fear of strangers. After the confession comes the apology to God and the asking of forgiveness for these very human sins. I always take this confession to heart, believing that recognizing my shortcomings and owning up to them in my life is a good step toward growth. More and more, though, I wrestle with two of these sins--bigotry and xenophobia. I don’t like to see them in myself, but they are there. It is not enough just to ask for divine forgiveness and then keep holding these sins tightly. I need to work on my attitude. When I see those of other races or religions or cultures I need to see the people - individual mothers, fathers, children, grandparents - as people like me, with the same hopes and dreams for themselves as I have. The bigot sees them as interlopers who want to have all this by taking away from “us,” and this is exactly the attitude I want to get rid of in myself.

Twenty years ago I wasn’t sure I understood what globalization was all about. I see now that it isn’t only in financial and economic matters; it is also living side by side with others who are different. There is no magic wand to make the change easier or welcome. But it is here to stay, and I have a choice of either fighting against it or adapting to it. The sooner I allow myself to see beyond the external trappings of any person, be it skin color or clothing or rituals, the more I see how much that person is like me. And not doing this is what I have to guard myself against. It’s bigotry, pure and simple, and I don’t like bigotry.


Olga said...

Good reminder to keep an open mind. I live in what is among the least diverse areas in the country. I like to think I am not a bigot, but I have not been tested.

Jill Title said...

What an honest confrontation of a shortcoming you see in yourself. As a product of a largely Caucasian, upper-middle class community, this is definitely an issue that, even if not intentional, is definitely present. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, at least for today. :)