I’m just realizing that I was born in June of the year MLK was assassinated – 50 years ago this year. For my parent’s generation, this assassination was on the level of the Challenger Explosion or 9/11. We all remember where we were on the day when…
I remember my mom telling me that she was taking a tour of the campus at Purdue in Lafayette when the news unfolded about the assassination. I realize now that she told me this story several times over the years – it’s etched in my memory.
But I realize now she was talking about the assassination of President Kennedy – not MLK. My dad was going to Purdue for his PhD in Chemical Engineering in the early 60’s, which is why my sister was actually born in Lafayette, IN! So, mom was definitely talking about President Kennedy when she told me that story.
In fact, I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the assassination of MLK in any memorable way. And yet, they both were on the same level in terms of national and cultural significance.
That observation struck me this year for some reason. I think it’s the turning 50 thing 😉 It helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before about my cultural upbringing. It was a stark reminder that my cultural upbringing was pretty white. Most of my cultural references are therefore related to and biased towards white American history. A lot was left out in the history books, but also in the conversations we probably had around the dinner table, at Scouts or in Sunday School.
I imagine that was a difficult and confusing time for my parents – as it was indeed for a generation…indeed, much like it is today, for my generation. I know a little about the families in which my parents were raised. We had our share of colorful characters and family stories. Like it or not, they shape who we become and how we think about the world in which we live.
So let’s be truthful. We all live with prejudice and bias. I face it many times a day. Sometimes, I’m aware of it and catch myself. Most times, I’m either tired or unconsciously aware. So, the question isn’t “Do I have prejudice thoughts about another human being?” The question is, “Am I aware of my learned bias and prejudice? How do they affect my actions and decisions?”
Bias is learned. And it can be unlearned.
I’m confronted with this almost every time I interact with another person! My life experiences around gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. affect how I think of others – which is very subjective based on my experience. The reality is my thoughts are likely not the complete – or accurate – story! If I’m not careful, it’s very easy for me to act on my preconceptions and assume things about others that are likely not true.
And we know what they say about assumptions…
I’m better off assuming that we more similar than we are different – then acting off that assumption and not my first reaction! Not easy, but that’s what I’ve learned is important for me.
I wish I could talk with my mom more about that day when she heard the news. I think I always let her comment about being at Purdue be the end of the conversation. That’s probably because talking about topics like race makes me uncomfortable. Looking back, I regret not opening up that up for deeper discussion. There are a lot of days I’d like to ask her about…but never found the courage or time to do so. With her gone, that ship has sailed. Such is the circle of life.
My dad celebrates his 80th birthday this year. I’ll be with him on his birthday in Florida. I have lots of questions that I want to do a better job of asking now, before the experiences and memories are lost with a generation…
‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’