I am home. I opened the door for someone, they passed through and said, “Thank you.” Yes. This is Iowa City. I am back from a trip to the South, but it might have been pretty much anywhere where people do not know me. In the outside world, diversity seems much more of an issue than it is here. I have let my hair grow long, something that evidently is not as well accepted in parts of the outside world.
As I walked down the street of a "foreign" town an African American gentleman whispered, “Can’t tell him from a goddamn girl.” It was uttered indistinctly, more like a spit or hiss than a sentence. But the message was very clear. “You are not welcome here. We do not like people like you. We do not really know you, but we know enough about people who look like you to say that we do not like you. Accept our ways and be like us or leave.
Later, I was getting a cup of coffee at a gas station. I offered an elderly white man, a lid for his cup of coffee. He pushed my lid aside and took another. As I was leaving, I held the door open for another older white gentleman. He would not meet my eyes and went in a different door.
It felt like this was due to the fact that I have long hair and a beard. I feel like I am back in the 1960’s. Yet as I read this I see that I am guilty of the same prejudice I see in others. Why was it important for me to mention the race and age of those I felt were discriminating against me? Clearly, I am not free of prejudice. Perhaps no one is totally free. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect to live in such a world.
Luckily, saving the world is not my job. I need only try to be kind. This works for me. Even when I notice the differences between us I can try to overlook those that disturb me. I can make an effort to treat you as I would be treated; to treat you with respect. Why is this so difficult? It may be because we evolved to use discrimination for our survival. Determining tribal membership was vital when we were still wandering the plains of the Serengeti. Make a mistake and you could be dinner. Perhaps we still live in such a world. The rage between our racial, political, social, economic and religious tribes seems stronger than it has in a very long time.
Hopefully, we will tire of this soon and realize that in the end there is but one tribe. It is called the Earth. Our land is this “tiny blue dot” we live on and share with all the other life we know. Even more broadly, there may be but one tribe within all the universes that now exist or that ever have existed. I can add to the kindness and joy of this tribe or detract from it. The choice is mine.
Maybe I will shave my head and cut off my beard the next time I travel out of Iowa City. I can do this much to reduce the chances of creating unease in others and encountering their prejudice. But what of those who encounter prejudice because of their skin color, size, intelligence, abilities or other more permanent features? They cannot change their color, suddenly grow a new limb or become more intelligent. I cannot imagine the challenges they face. In fact, I cannot say I truly understand the challenges and prejudice anyone else faces. Thankfully, I don’t need to. I can continue the practice of kindness without such knowledge. This is enough.
On second thought, I think I will let my hair grow so long that I can sit on it. Then when I travel outside of my town, I can wear long robes and carry a staff (and of course wear my sunglasses). Perhaps those who bear prejudice will think twice when presented with such an image. Or perhaps they will beat me silly. In either case it will simply be yet another chapter in what has already been an interesting and wonderful life. Whatever is left after the beating will either continue the wonder of this life or release its resources to be used by others. Regardless, life and its wonder will continue. At least that is how it seems to me. Other’s views may be different. In the end, differing views are not important. What is important is that I not be distracted by differences, no matter how long my hair, the color of my skin or my lack of wisdom and “common sense”.