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.
- She was foreign to the environment.
- She was moving too quickly.
- She was carrying something that couldn’t be identified.
- My baby was inside that building.
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.
At 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.