Know Your Prejudices

While I ponder over the recent tragedy that transpired in New Zealand, I recognized that familiar surge of anger building inside me. I have been quite acquainted to it growing up but in the last years, I have been able to curb it in such a way that it would appear ‘manageable’ to scrutinizing eyes. Usually when I feel it, I grow quiet and withdrawn. My heart starts to palpitate and the familiar tremors in my hands would slowly build up. This is when I hide them by sticking my hands in my pocket or doing hand gestures that will come out bigger than the treacherous tremors. It was a defense mechanism, not to give myself away that easily as I used to when I was younger. I learned to mask my body’s reactions to unlikely matters.

However, while going through the same incident in my head, I have caught something dark lurking in my thoughts. What you will read next are my thoughts and it will be best if you braced yourself as I will be sharing them without filters.

Mother fucking snowflake. Uneducated white entitled trash who is obviously clueless of his country’s history. What does he mean he is only protecting what truly belonged to the white people? The original dwellers of Australia were the Aborigines and we all know what those white foreigners did to them. Besides, the first white population that arrived in Australia were mostly a bunch of lowly convicts shipped off from England to pay for the crimes they committed. I guess the fruit never really falls far from the tree, ei mate? Not to mention, most of your lot are fucking picky and leeching on government benefits! And you’re pissed off at immigrants for working like mules, when they are beating themselves up on honest living so they can provide for their families and build a good life?! Most of them forced to flee their countries because of wars that they did not start in the first place. Are you fucking kidding me. You love your white skin so much maybe we should just skin you alive and prep you up with salt and lemon thereafter. 

Whoa! I had to stop myself.

And this, my beloved readers (if you are still with me in reading this), is how you let your hate run over everything good. This is how easy the wave of anger can engulf you even though you think you can surf through it. This is how your momentary abandonment of logic will lead to permanent damage. Next thing you know, your hands have crumpled into fists and are ready to land on the next white person’s face that you see, or you find yourself spewing your own venom of prejudices at onlookers who chose to be silent spectators to discrimination. Much worst, you might catch yourself loading the firearm you formerly imagined to use in riddling bodies of innocent people.

How many times did I use ‘white people’? What was my basis for assuming that he is uneducated or for referring to him as white trash? How well do I know Australia’s history (my knowledge of the country is limited to what I have read in museum exhibitions and what some of my Aussie friends tell me)? Who was I really thinking of when I said that his kind was picky or entitled? Was I really just thinking about Aussies or every Caucasian I had a horrid encounter with? 

When I read my thoughts again, I feel this overwhelming shame. My God, whose thoughts were those? Those cannot possibly be mine. But the sad truth was, they were. They were my thoughts. Thoughts that were nurtured by countless incidents of being humiliated and discriminated by people who just happened to be Caucasian. For a moment, I forgot all the hundred other Caucasians who showed me kindness and love even in times when I least expected it. For a moment, I let the hatred of one man get the best of me and fell into the same trap that he fell into. I was corrupted by my own generalizations and was blinded by my own prejudices. I too was guilty of the labels that were thrown at my face by other blinded individuals. I used the word ‘white’ like as if it was a useless, disgusting word just like how others spat the words Asian, brown, and chink at my direction. I attacked a whole community based on the wrong actions of one person.

I tried analyzing where my anger came from. I wanted to see where it all rooted from. Maybe by finding the root, I would be able to pluck it out and be rid of it. The painful reality is, I would have to uproot a full grown tree now and the tree has burrowed so deep that it will be quite a feat. My anger was not only breeding from my own stories of discrimination. It was also nurtured by the stories and experiences of people close to me who went through similar ordeals and these are people who don different skin colors – black, white, brown, and yellow. Sometimes the labels do not even stop with colors. Many put up with the crass jibes for being Muslims, Christians, Jews, Arabs, or Hindus. Others battle with taunting categories of fat, thin, disabled, circumcised or uncircumcised, poor, accent-rich speech, bald, curly.  Can you believe this? We even launch attacks based on minuscule descriptions that involved the hair or his or her lack thereof. It is absurd but it is also true.

How many times did I fall into these traps? Honestly, many times. Which ones? I prefer not to note them down for the shame I feel is already enough but I have used some. Yes, me. And, I admit that I justified my prejudices based on a few bad experiences. Pay attention to the term ‘few.’

This is not an article about that man. I am not asking you to understand him. We all know what he did was wrong in all counts. This is about me and you and everyone else who have been witnesses and recipients to unbidden discrimination. This is about how our everyday struggle against these unwanted attention can destroy the good inside us. This is about how hatred festers quietly, slowly crawling in secret nooks in our bodies without our knowing. This is about being aware of our own prejudices and not letting them control us. This is about how we can stop for a moment now and be mindful of what is in our hearts and minds – honestly acknowledge them and debate with them if we must. If we find ourselves unable to understand why then maybe it will be helpful to turn outside the comfort of our own thoughts and engage in a dialogue with other individuals. Dialogues do not always have to involve words. There are also other means.

I remember ending up being so frustrated with a friend over our opposing political choices that at one point, all words were exhausted. I sat in the coffee shop with the same dogged determination as my friend’s and we both knew neither was going to budge. What I did know was that I was not going to throw away years of friendship just because we did not agree on one matter. I looked at her without saying a word and she understood what I was trying to tell her. We were going to drop the discussion because we were now treading on the tight ropes of our own biases and we both promised to think about our stances. We parted awkwardly that day but in the days after, we exchanged thoughts, rants, and questions privately. Most times we still do not budge on our stances on some topics, but many instances, we acknowledged each other’s opinions. I saw the reason in some of what she was saying and she saw the reason in some of mine. We do not negate each other anymore but we try to understand by conversing with an open mind.

The thing is, even though both of us are Filipinos, we did not have the same social or economic background. We shared a couple of similar experiences but beyond that we were two different individuals. Our views, practices, decisions, and values are all influenced by so many factors and nurtured by all the communities that we each have been part of. Sometimes, how we were perceived or understood is different from how we intended, therefore, it is important to communicate. Communicate with the objective of truly wanting to understand – not to pick fights, not to point fingers, and not to come out as a winner. Most importantly, we have to keep trying. I say this also to myself. Over and over again. Try, try, try, amidst difficulty — in every interaction, in every community, in every city, in every country. There is always something to learn about people. Remember, we are not that man. I, for one, refuse to become like him.

So, what about you, what are your prejudices?

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