“Prejudices,” An Excerpt from an Essay, by Mary E. Jones

When I was around five or six years old my older brother told me, “All White people eat their boogers.” It was common knowledge in my neighborhood that whites were not only mean and nasty people; they were dreadful people who could not be trusted under any circumstances. I grew up with parents who migrated to Milwaukee from the southern, delta states of Louisiana and Mississippi. The majority of the adults living in my neighborhood and the surrounding areas came to Milwaukee under similar circumstances. Most came for new opportunities, jobs, and better housing, as well as a means of escaping the extreme racism in the southern towns they grew up in. Opinions of white people in my neighborhood were not very high. All whites were the same rotten bunch; this was the general consensus from my family and neighbors. I eventually learned all Whites are not the same. Racism is based on ignorance; therefore, unlike my parents and others, I have learned different ways of responding to racism rather than making broad and negative assumptions and generalizations about different groups or cultures.

Despite some of the faulty information I received regarding other races growing up, my general nature was and is to verify all things before fully accepting what’s being said. For instance, after my brother told me the story about white people eating their boogers, I anxiously anticipated catching them in the act. Every Sunday after church my brothers, sister, and I went to the movie theater, which was the only time I was around groups of whites. Once at the theater, I strained my neck, twisting my head and missing most of the movie trying to catch some white person eating his or her boogers; however, I could never catch them in the act. I remember my disappointment at not seeing this booger eating up close and personal. I diligently occupied myself with the task of verifying my brother’s information for a least four consecutive Sundays, when I came to the conclusion that either these people were hiding their booger eating talents well or my brother was just wrong. I eventually discovered that my brother was wrong about all White people eating boogers. After catching a few Black and Hispanic kids eating their boogers I concluded that booger eating crosses all racial boundaries. Another story that was often repeated in my youth was how Whites smelled like “wet dogs” after getting wet when it rained. I listened with a degree of skepticism; however, I had to verify that story also, which I never could. I eventually concluded from encounters with wet people, most people generally smell different after getting wet. Because of the stories I heard growing up, which were never confirmed, I learned to either seek verification or simply disregard the stories as racist stupidity.

From my personal experiences with racist people, I have learned to place blame and hold accountable the individual for holding onto ignorance and racist ideas towards other individuals or groups.  For instance, after moving to a White neighborhood when I was about ten years old, I was in a whole new world and experiencing an entirely new culture up close and personal. Most of my new neighbors were outwardly friendly and accepting towards me and my family; however, there was a man across the street who was very racist, cold, and unfriendly. This racist neighbor had a son whom he informed explicitly, “Don’t play with those dirty, uppity ^*&&#%@ across the street.” Nevertheless, the son liked playing with us, and while visiting, would naively tell us what his father said.  The boy’s mother, a very meek lady, also seemed okay with us and was congenial and friendly, totally unlike the father. The father’s behavior and attitude towards my family was ignorant and foolish compared to the other members of his family, as well as the other neighbors on the block. This man’s behaviors made it obvious to me that all whites did not feel or respond the same towards Blacks as this man did. He would actually order us out of his yard if we visited his son; I kind of enjoyed tormenting him with my presence, so I visited his yard or would walk in front of his house often when he was outside.

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In the end, racism will exist as long as there are people.  Education exposes the lies that perpetuate racism and the tendency people have of not understanding or accepting things or people that are different from themselves.

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