I pride myself on always keeping an open mind. I like to think of myself as free of prejudice, and always looking for the good in others. I’m sure many of you do, too. It’s tough to see your blindspots sometimes, though.
I was born and raised in the New York city area. I lived for nearly all of my first 40 years either in or within a few minute’s drive from the city proper. So when I moved to Texas in 2008, I was a bit afraid – after all, how is a New York-style liberal elite atheist ever going to fit in there?
I was in San Antonio for all of 2 days before I had my first encounter. I was at a gas station filling up my car (a Civic Hybrid with NY state license plates) when a typical Texas pickup truck pulls up to the pump behind me. The driver’s door opens, and out steps a large man in full cowboy regalia: cowboy boots (of course), jeans, big-ass belt buckle, plaid shirt. He looked like this guy except he didn’t have a cowboy hat on – but I’m sure it was in his truck’s cab:
“OK”, I thought nervously, “I’m about to get my first ass-kicking!”. I could see him looking at me and my car with a serious expression on his face. After a little while he calls out to me “Hey – you from New York?”. If you know what a Texas accent sounds like, be sure to read his words with that accent, because he sounded just like that.
Given that my car had NY plates, I answered that yes, I was from New York. He then asks “What brings you around these parts?”. I got a little more nervous, expecting to be met with some sort of “we don’t like your type around here!” aggression. I replied to him that I had gotten a job here in San Antonio, and had just arrived in town.
He then breaks out in a big smile, and says “Well, welcome to Texas!”.
I thanked him, but immediately felt terrible. I had looked at this man, seen his appearance, and assumed that he was some backwards, hate-filled redneck who was looking for any excuse to kick my ass. Instead, he was a very friendly and warm person. I wasn’t as open-minded as I had imagined I was. I had let a stereotype control my perceptions of another person.
I think of this event a lot these days, especially with the news of white people calling the cops on black people because they “didn’t look like they belonged there”. We all have these stereotypes, and need to be mindful of them to keep our irrational reactions in check. Getting rid of those stereotypes is a process, and we all have work to do.
Recognizing that we all are not perfect in no way excuses acting on those perceptions as if they were fact. I do hope that the Karens of the world eventually see themselves and their biases and become a little more aware that some people just look different than you do, and that’s OK. I do admit to being skeptical of this change happening anytime soon, though. Attitudes sometimes take a generation or more to change, and the systemic racism in this country is very deep-rooted. It may take longer.