By Larry Feinstein
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”— Martin Luther King Jr.
I can’t imagine trying to tackle the subject of prejudice as an academic, let alone a storyteller. How each of us becomes who we are is like creating an incredibly detailed road map of a life, with infinite intersections and endless speculations. Hell, after all my years, I can’t say why I feel the way I do about any of you.
The snowflake analogy has been done to death and I cringe at the prospect of using it, making me at least the millionth person to claim it as some kind of brilliant revelation. Every single one of us that ever has been and ever will be is unique and we’re talking about billions of us, without even one solitary duplicate!
Quite a while ago, I read an interesting book called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. In a nutshell, he addressed a state of mind I like to call preconsciousness. It is an immeasurable moment between our reflexive awareness and our internal response. Put another way, we know something before we actually know it or have a name for it. The Buddha spoke often of living in the moment. I am not even in the same galaxy as a Zen scholar, so I can’t say that he ever tried to define the moment, but I doubt it, because you cannot.
I know, I know, why am I wasting your time and mine with this kind of mental minutiae? I have been thinking a lot about prejudice, in all its human forms. Everywhere I look, there are wars being waged between individuals, between an infinite variety of groups and country against country. Well, of course, the easy answer is this kind of discord has been going on since the beginning of time, even painted on the walls of caves thousands of years ago. Today, that is not good enough, because we are living in a time no one could ever have imagined before, occupying a very angry planet.
This has got me thinking about my own limitations and biases. Where did my “blinks” come from? I react differently to every single person I encounter and that has always been the case. We’re talking about tall people, short people, skinny ones, heavy ones, African Americans, plus the rest of the skin-color rainbow. We can’t possibly leave out the incredible complications posed by different religions, politics and nationalities. I’m saving the best for last, and that is gender, driven by the ever present, silent motor of sexuality, manifesting in impulse, thought and action, which is all too often unwarranted. Speaking of that last business, since the beginning of our time here, my gender has confused physical prowess with superiority and sexual control over women and even girls, an ugly, ugly distortion of our total equality as human beings.
I am never one to speak about anyone other than myself, especially in these stories. When I really started thinking about this subject, I was struck by the fact that it’s always about the differences and never the similarities between me and everyone else. It’s kind of like needing to always define myself in relation to the other.
You know, repetition can often be a powerful teacher. In my case, observing my reactions and their all too often predictably has caused me to look in the mirror of my responses. I wonder, how does this happen? Is differentiating between me and you in my DNA, kind of like my animal, survivalist ancient history? Is it something I can’t do anything about?
Asking those kinds of questions long enough leads me to believe these knee-jerk responses can be overcome. The Buddhists, who have a name for everything imaginable, call it mindfulness. You get in between that blink moment and your reaction, jamming a wedge in the door before it slams shut, leaving you a moment to catch yourself before falling over the cliff carelessness.
I used the above quote by Dr. King for two reasons, both significant, at least to me. Calling out to us as “brothers” was likely knee jerk, even for him. A young girl by the name of Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat on a bus in Birmingham, Ala., on March 2, 1955. She built the stage that gave voice to this magnificent orator and visionary.
The global issues facing all of us, everywher