Discrimination and Prejudice: These are two dangerous words whose definitions began shifting in the early 60s. Right about that time there was an ad for Schweppes Tonic Water, “for those with discriminating tastes.” The ad was a line in the sand between the original accepted definition and the new third-rail definition where any sort of discrimination whatsoever was determined to be a cut against one or more minority groups, most often blacks.
The concern was genuine and well-founded, and yet strangely, there was hope back then. I still have a vivid memory of driving over to a race relations class at Davis Monthan AFB, AZ, with my right-hand man, TSgt. Willie Brooks riding shotgun. Willie was a black man…probably still is, and on Saturday mornings he’d sometimes help me tune my Shelby GT-350 beneath my carport. Walking into race relations, I said, “It looks like we just might finally have this racial mess on the run.” He smiled and said, “Hope so, Sir.” It seemed like we were just about there. We’ve slipped way the hell back in 40+ years.
The second word is prejudice or, to get to the heart of it: pre-judging. Both discrimination and prejudging are dangerous words, particularly when used in mixed company or a group where tensions are high. And, quite frankly, the danger is often well-grounded. America right now is, as they say, ten pounds of hate in a five pound bag. We all should be careful and when in doubt apply The Golden Rule. Treat the other guy the way you, yourself, would like to be treated.
Having said that, these two words are important enough that it might be a good idea to see what they really mean, and face the reality that every single man, woman, child, teenager and creature that walks, swims, crawls or flies upon this planet uses discrimination and pre-judging every hour of every day…just to survive.
Is ALL discrimination bad? Careful before you jump on my case. I’m not that stupid. Discrimination, the way the word was originally created, meant that you could tell things or people, or wines, cars, art, clothes, music apart. My old roomie from college has hugely more discriminating taste with regard to wines than I do. He likes his white wines so dry that I feel like I should be stirring in a Rolaids. I have pedestrian wine tastes…BUT…I can discriminate or tell or judge what I prefer to drink. Is that unfair to dry white wine? I doubt it.
Prejudice: C’mon Henry, do you seriously expect me to believe that prejudice can be good? If you substitute the word, necessary, we might learn a bit more. The term, good, is a slippery one. Good for whom??? Every single creature that travels upon this planet relies on pre-judging for its very survival. A Thompson’s gazelle on the Serengeti, might look up, see a lion sixty feet away and react by running for its life. Has it encountered this lion before? Does it know for sure that this lion is dangerous? Technically speaking, no. But based on previous experience it comes to conclusions whether they are fair or otherwise.
Every single insurance company in the world bets its annual earnings on being able to accurately pigeon-hole you and me as to our health, viability, flakiness, etc. Is that fair? No, but insurance companies would fold their tents if they couldn’t accurately pre-pigeon hole you. The truth is, we all prejudge our fellow man a thousand different ways every moment we interact. Unfortunately, when we do it, in the back of our minds is the concept, this isn’t prejudice…I’ve just learned through experience that (fill in your own prejudice) is true for me.
Crawling way the hell out on a limb, let me use myself as an example: I can’t really defend them…but they are there. I am prejudiced against gals with six-pack abs and biceps that ripple when they pick up a beer. It just isn’t sexy to me. I like women to be softer and curvier. Red-headed guys with pale skin: In grade school a kid named Tommy Byrd pulled a switchblade on me while I was waiting to get up to play ball. Fortunately, I had a bat…and let me tell you unequivocally: a bat trumps a switchblade every time. It left an impression though and later on in college another red-headed guy at a frat house picked a fight with me and between those two incidents, I have become quite careful around red-headed guys. Will I give a red-headed guy a fair shake? Sure. But I have my guard up.
The Third Rail Scenario: I’m walking back to the car in South Philly with Pamela. It’s 1:00 am and the streets are dark and deserted. Four guys come around a corner. They are tall and they are black. Am I concerned?????? Yes. Very. If I met these same four guys in a bar, we might have struck up a conversation and argued who makes the best Philly cheese steaks. But not now. I have to confess that it goes back to the internal wiring that humans and animals have. In that scenario, I could be in trouble. They could be white or yellow or red…or even teenagers. It’s potentially not a good place to be for anyone of any color, gender, or religion. Does that make me prejudiced? I don’t think I am….but it’s there.
Prejudice against Things: My list is short but it’s specific: Way back when, there was a first time I ever saw someone on a bluetooth phone. We were in Miami and a gal was sitting at an outdoor cafe, talking to what appeared to be herself. She was really chatting up a storm, but at some point she turned and there was a device stuck in her ear. At the time, I thought the whole thing looked pretty stupid. That impression hasn’t changed much.
Google Glasses: Apparently I’m not the only person who felt annoyed when someone sat down in front of me with Goo-Glasses on. I felt like they may or may not be taping me and I didn’t like it. Goo-Glasses apparently have not stood the test of time. Mirrored sun-glasses…on anyone, but particularly on cops. I’ve always secretly felt that if you don’t have the guts to look me in the eye…go away and leave me alone. That’s about it. Short list…
Positive Prejudices: That’s right, you can be prejudiced toward something as easily as against. Any girl or woman who is or ever was…a dancer. Extreme extra points for ballet dancer. More points still if you’re a Russian or Hungarian ballet dancer. Looking back, I really didn’t have a chance in hell that first night I met Pamela. Other positive prejudices: French food and Italian cars. My idea of heaven would be to walk out of a French bistro, hop in my new Alpha Romeo 4-C ( I could almost afford this one!) with Pamela still in her lavender tutu having danced the Lilac Fairy. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…….
Musical Discrimination: I have close to 8000 songs on my iTunes now, a whole lotta classical, particularly the French Impressionists, and 60s, 70s rock, soft rock, folk, etc. I love good jazz. I LOVE great R&B….and…I don’t have one single rap song in the entire bunch. I’ve tried and I’ve tried but to my fairly well trained ears, it sounds like the same song, same attitude, same lack of a crescendo, same lack of a bridge, over and over and over. I don’t hate it so much as it just bores me. I’d like to think that my discriminating taste is like my appreciation for really good single malt whiskey. I will always have an open mind and try anything. But so far, for my ears…rap’s a bore.
Last example: I’ll put this one off on Pamela. I came home from the eye doctor one day with brilliant Paul Newman-blue contacts in my eyes. Pam took one look at me and I swear she started hissing. “Get those things outta your eyes!” she yelled. I never knew just how much she likes brown-eyed guys…fortunate for me. That’s just her own personal prejudice. Many, many, many women would ask, “Pam? Are you crazy? Blue is beautiful!”…beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…and the beholdee.
These are relatively benign examples, but each of us carries an ammo belt full of our own special prejudice. It cuts across all boundaries, age…height, sex, religion, color, ethnicity, IQ, health, smell, musical preference, fashion, region of the country, accent, even down to the cars we drive. I confess I have little love for guys who buy exotic cars and have no idea how to drive them. It just seems stupid.
Kenny Rogers had what’s considered a Twinkie of a song called The Gambler. And yet, there’s more wisdom in those few words than many philo courses I’ve taken. One line in particular: “You’ve got to know when to hold them…know when to fold them…know when to walk away…..know when to run.” Sometimes when you run into a brick wall of hatred or bigotry or prejudice, it’s best to run like hell. Nobody wins ’em all.
Is this going to change? We will all carry around our prejudices with us till we keel over and die. The punchline to this little vignette is simple: We are all prejudiced in a thousand different ways. The one saving grace is to ALWAYS give the other guy a fair chance to disprove our prejudice. That’s the key and that’s the only solution that I can think of that’s realistic. Next party I go to…and run into some guy with red hair and pale blue rooster eyes, I’ll suck it up and say…”Hey, I hope that’s not a switchblade in your pants.”
P.S. Pamela just proofed this and asked this question: “What about Germans?” Before you tar and feather me, keep in mind that I’m half German. But having had an art gallery for what sometimes seems like a hundred years, every single time a German group has come in, one or more of them will offer suggestions as to what is wrong with the gallery, the art, the lighting, the paint on the wall. Every time. Yeah, they make possibly the best automobiles on the planet. But give it a rest, guys. Oh, and stop trying to take over the world.
P.P.S I write these blogs a week to ten days in advance. Since then, we’ve all learned the name Dylann Storm Roof… Doesn’t change anything, I guess, though I think it’s time for that confederate flag to come down off the South Carolina state capitol. If someone wants to hang it over their fireplace…that’s their business, I guess. I suppose it’s a person’s right to hang a Nazi flag over their fireplace as well. That’s part of what America is all about…Freedom to be yourself, however, repugnant or stupid as that may be.