My Daily Tangle With Prejudice

I had just dropped off my son at daycare this morning.  My heart sagged with that heaviness that it does whenever I walk away from him.  As I was climbing back into my car, I saw out of the corner of my eye someone just a few yards away.  She was walking rapidly and straight towards me, holding a strangely shaped bundle close to her chest.  I hadn’t seen her around there before so she stood out.  I went on alert.

My first response to her was overwhelmingly negative, one that could only be based on prejudice (pre-judging) because my brain had had time to collect the barest facts about her.

  1. She was foreign to the environment.
  2. She was moving too quickly.
  3. She was carrying something that couldn’t be identified.
  4. My baby was inside that building.
  5. Boston.

I felt alarm.

Then I gave her a closer look.  Oh, wait a minute…middle class white woman.  Reduce the threat level.  Professional outfit, great haircut, big sunglasses, neat and polished.

My first prejudice–that she was a threat–dissolved.  Unfortunately, it was quickly replaced by another.  I disliked her on first sight because she was thin.  And pretty.  She appeared to have her shit together and that made me resent her.  Women tearing each other down mentally.  As if it’s her fault that I feel overweight, overwrought and overtired all the time and I would feel better if every other woman in the world would QUIT BEING COMPETENT and take off some of the pressure!  That’s what I was doing, even if only in my head.  The poison of my prejudice against her wasn’t getting to her–it was only rotting my spirit.

weight watchersAt least this time, I caught myself doing it.  Stopped my brain from judging her by forcing my face to smile at her.  And that’s when I connected to her and finally saw her as the person she was in the moment.  The strangely shaped bundle that she was clutching to her chest was a tiny baby, probably 6 or 8 weeks old.  The baby, a sack of bottles, some diapers and wipes.  Around the designer sunglasses, her face was a mask of tension and sorrow.  She looked like she was on the verge of crying.  That baby was so small.

I hope she saw me smiling at her.  I hope she saw how I cooed at the baby behind my car window.  I hope she made it to work and has a good day.

As livid as I get when I see prejudice out in the world–racial, religious, economic, xenophobic–I also have to look for it in my own reactions to people who are a lot like me.

21 thoughts on “My Daily Tangle With Prejudice

  1. Amanda Harris

    Oh, Ashley, please keep speaking these truths in your beautifully worded posts! They’re so important!

  2. Michelle

    I’ve tried to explain this to my husband before– how women often don’t like each other immediately– and he doesn’t understand. It’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be pregnant with a boy. 🙂
    I wish that our first reaction would be to bond with another woman– especially another mother. We should be a community of support and encouragement rather than a wasteland of individuals rushing to judge one another. (I am completely guilty of doing this).
    Today, I judged a woman at Lowe’s whose (very small) baby was screaming because she was hungry. The woman let her scream for a good 10 minutes while she put together a bottle of formula. I was thinking “why isn’t she caring for her child? Why isn’t she breastfeeding her? She could already be soothed and comforted and full by the time she nursed her if she weren’t formula feeding”… then I realized that I knew nothing about this woman and her situation, and she is probably doing the best she can and is probably more bothered by her child screaming than anyone else.
    Also, I did nothing to help. If anything, I gave her a dirty look, not a supportive, “I’m about to be in your shoes and I hope someone is there to help me too” look, which I should have given.
    So now that we have both realized this flaw and acknowledged it, how do we move past it to build a community of support? 🙂

    1. Sara Amis

      This bothers me. Because “women” don’t dislike one another. We, as human beings, may feel competitive or judgmental. But I know plenty of men who are judgmental as hell, and plenty of women who aren’t.

      I in no way mean this to discourage people from talking about the ways in which we as women are ENCOURAGED to be judgmental of one another. But the fact that we have that idea in our heads doesn’t mean that that’s how women per se are.

      1. Baddest Mother Ever

        I’m talking abouy my experience with jusving other women. I block myself from getting to a place of liking or not liking because I have judged too quickly. I am less prone to do it with men.

        I don’t recall saying “women don’t like women.”

  3. maryhelenc

    I’ve done this recently and I felt so guilty. I was at an art gallery and I was watching people get their wedding photos and the groom seemed so disconnected from the bride, often going to flirt with the bridesmaids and the photographer and all of his interactions with his wife seemed so…tense. I said to my friend “I give it five years” sort of absently and she was aghast. I felt so badly after I said it, because I was basing this on one glance. I definitely understand what you mean. Kudos for being so open.

  4. Terri

    This resonates. And I’m sure you’ve seen the Dove video about the portraits that is making the rounds. I think you’re right — we women do judge each others and so much of it is based in our own insecurities and that ever-present mother-guilt. All we can do is recognize it and just make a conscious decision to STOP doing it. It reminds me of when Josh was a newborn in the NICU. Most of his first 10 days were spent in the Special Care Nursery but for 2 days he was upgraded (?) to the NICU because they were concerned that he might need intubation. When we went for our morning visit, I was, naturally, worried half to death, feeling loads of mother-guilt already (since it was clearly MY fault that he decided to be born 5 weeks early) and generally feeling pretty crappy. Got to love those pregnancy hormones. 🙂

    We followed a woman in and I watched her resentfully out of the corner of my eye as we scrubbed before being allowed into the NICU, envying her lithe figure, put-together hair and makeup — she was the full package. Once into the NICU we went in separate directions. As I rocked my not-yet-fully-developed “wimpy white boy” who was just there to “finish cooking” (as the neonatologist phrased it), I glimpsed her handing the nurse an insulated bag which could only contain breast milk. And then I noticed that she was sitting next to an isolette, where she could only reach her hand in and touch her baby through protective covering. I was immediately hammered by an overwhelming sense of shame. For while I might have envied her “package,” I certainly didn’t want to trade circumstances with her. When we left an hour later, I snuck a peek at her baby’s info card — he had been born in September, which meant that she’d been living that limbo-life for 2 months already. The next day Josh was back in the SCN so I never saw her again. I wondered for a long time about them — and hoped that she was able to take her baby home before too much longer. And really hoped that she saw my compassionate smile as we left. You just never know what’s going on with people.

  5. Susan Fliegel

    We all say we’re not prejudiced, but we are. Whether your prejudice is against another skin color, size, religion, region, ethnicity, education level, attractiveness level, etc,, we all have something we react too, usually because of the way we were raised. I’ve gotten comments from other people over the years for being in a mixed religion marriage, for being from the South, for being too busty, for being too fat — you know what? Screw ’em. As I get older I’m learning to judge people less, and too reject their judgement of me. Acceptance of yourself and of others is one of the keys to happiness.

  6. Heart To Harp

    I think it takes recognizing these “little” moments of internal judging, investigating as you so artfully did what triggered the assumptions, the judgements, the prejudice, and then changing the story inside our heads every darn time it happens, if we hope to reduce the presence and impact of prejudice in the world. The consensus consumer reality is fueled by keeping us insecure and pressure-driven, so we”ll go buy something that we think will make us more attractive/desirable/interesting/competent/whatever is in our anxiety closet.

  7. Chris

    Took my meds today. That was beautifully said, Ashley. I worked very hard in the 60’s for the civil rights movement, and thought that all those stars in my crown made me immune to the tendency we all have to be judgemental. Wrong. I still have reactions I don’t like. I put people into categories. and even though it’s only in my head, I feel shame, so I’m forever trying to be the person I want to be and being brought up short by some stupid reaction or self-righteous thought. I liked ‘anxiety closet,’ too, but I’m out on that one. I just wish my balance and my memory had come out with me.

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