Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Me, Bigoted??!!! (long post)

Most people think of bigotry as the act of judging someone by their ethnicity or the color of their skin. To me, bigotry means simply judging someone because of some small nuance in their looks, behavior, or social class. I have to admit that I am still learning a thing or two about not judging a book by it's cover. This probably seems like a simplistic concept that many of us have had drilled into us since our early years, but many are still quick to pass judgement on someone before they even know them.

About 5 years ago I was still working retail and there was a guy who frequented the store where I worked . I ignored him because he looked, dressed, and acted like a stereotypical redneck and my past experiences dictated that rednecks were all ignorant assholes who should be avoided. At the time I was driving a complete shitbox of a car which seemed to break down every 100-200 miles. My alternator stopped working on a bitterly cold winter night on my way back from work and my car died at a gas station. Dozens of people from all walks of life passed right by me as they pumped gas and paid for it. I pleaded for them to give my car a jump-start, but I was completely ignored because they couldn't be bothered to stop and help someone in such cold weather. I was on the verge of tears. My clothes were not sufficient to protect me from the cold (I think it was about 20 below zero) and I was starting to shiver as well. Well, someone finally stopped in a beat up Chevy truck right in front of my car and offered to give me a jump-start. It was the man who I kept avoiding at work. He saw me shivering and told me to go sit in the cab of his truck to warm up while he tried unsuccessfully for 10 minutes to jump-start my car. After the car refused to start up, he gave me a ride right to my house. I was humbled to the point of complete shame. I got to know this man afterward during his usual visits to the store. I learned that he was a very nice, hard-working, friendly person who had a wife and 2 young children whom he loved and took good care of. He is a better man than I am. I don't see him coming into the store any more, but may God bless him wherever he is. He taught me a valuable life lesson.

Last year, there was a roughneck-looking young man who came into the store. His hair was unkempt & greasy, his clothes were tattered & stained, and he spoke with a slow drawl. I automatically dreaded the prospect of having to deal with him because I thought he would be an ignoramus. After he struck up a conversation with me, my attitude was completely changed. Even though he spoke slowly, he turned out to be very articulate and intelligent. His knowledge of a broad array of subjects impressed me and he had a keen sense of perception. Yet again, I had misjudged someone.

Today an older, middle-aged law enforcement officer with a southern drawl, wearing a cowboy hat, a huge belt-buckle, and various Texan regalia came into the store. It was a little surprising to see someone who appeared to be one of the officers from Dukes of Hazard up here in New England and upon seeing him, I immediately began to think of him as a stereotypical southern good 'ole boy. He struck up a conversation with me and again I was made to realize that I STILL have problems with passing judgement too quickly. He turned out to be a smart, interesting fellow with a lot of cool stories to tell. Why have I not completely learned my lesson yet?

For those of you who don't know me personally, I live in what could be considered a conservative New Hampshire town with a large amount of low-income households. Because I work retail, I frequently run into folks who many would consider to be "white trash." (People who have little or no income, a poor education, and a seeming lack of social decorum). As much as I try to be open-minded and understanding, this is the social group that I have come to dislike the most over the years.

You would think that a gay man living in a conservative environment would know how it feels when people judge you harshly for something you can't control. I am not proud of my attitude and over the past year, I have become acutely aware of this raging hypocrisy within my own life. This has set me to actively working on changing my perception. I need to stay in touch with the fact that we are all human and we are all a product of our environment. Understanding and patience goes a long way toward healing many of society's problems. I hope that as time passes I may learn to embrace these qualities more completely.


Steve S said...

I think to a large degree, stereotyping is part of a survival instinct. It's wrong, but I don't think it's born of evil intent, we just work to curb it but shouldn't feel shame about it.

To use myself as an example, I'm considered by a lot of people to be redneck white trash, I suppose. I grew up in the midwest bible belt and so have that as my upbringing. I learned to 'blend' to survive and pretty much became a gay redneck, very much like Ennis Del Mar, Heath's character in Brokeback Mountain. I have the accent still, and truthfully I feel more at ease and at home with low income people. Truth be told they judge you far differently than the elite does and are often far more accepting. There are bigots in all social classes though.

I'm raising a 3 year old right now, so I'm only working 32 hours a month so I can be the primary parent and run the household. This has made for some tight financial crunches (which I rant about on my blog). It is very common for me to be dismissed as poor white trash. I'm poor but it's because I'm spending my time raising a child, not because I'm uneducated. I have to budget meals and do things like make my own bread (3.50 for a loaf is outrageous, sorry!), we have to share the car and we can't afford health insurance. It's not because we are white trash, it's because we are in one of the most expensive states and are trying to support 3 on basically an income of 1, until she's old enough to go to school full time in 2 years. I have a degree though and paid my own way through college so things aren't always what they seem. You just gotta remind yourself, every person has a story!

nonsequitur said...

Indeed you are right Steve. I respect you for your hard work and commitment to your family, it is a testament against stereotyping.