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Prejudice: Is it really that common?
I’m a sixteen year-old girl still battling acne, a band geek who’s changed schools twice (not including, of course, the move from elementary to middle school, then to high school), I spent about a year wearing both braces and glasses—plus a really bad perm—and to top it off, I’ve always been an overachiever-type student. A person like me, well, I’m just an obscure religion or minority ethnic group away from being a stereotypical bully’s dream victim.
Yet, I cannot recall one time that I’ve ever been the victim of prejudice. Not by teachers, not by fellow students, and certainly not by random people on the street.
Which is why I was so surprised to see the essay prompt on the board in AP Composition today. A firsthand experience with prejudice? What was even more surprising was the massive amount of people who went right to work after reading the sample. Is prejudice really that common?
The high number of people who seemed to know what they were talking about in such a topic forced me to spend a good couple hours simply thinking about the prompt, even asking my parents about any time I may have been bullied and told them about, then later forgot. But, taking into consideration their unfortunately less-than-helpful answers and my still-blank slate on the topic, I feel I must declare that I have never witnessed, participated in, or been a victim of prejudice.
Having satisfactorily—if still infuriatingly—answered the prompt, I now move on to ‘why?’. Why have I never experienced this? Up until seeing all those people set to writing immediately, I would have said that prejudice in my school is minimal, which would sufficiently answer that question. But, although that is probably true to an extent, I’m beginning to think that that’s not the chief reason.
A couple reasons may contribute to the fact that I’ve never been teased for being a girl. One of them being, of course, that many so-called ‘gender roles’ have faded in the past fifty or sixty years, and another being that I’m on the tall side and have always been exceptionally strong relative to the amount of exercise I do, which is apparently a little intimidating. As for my age, I’ve always looked older than I am (when I was fourteen, I was informed that I was ‘definitely no younger than twenty-two’), and I’ve been told that I don’t generally act like a teenager, which likely leads people to not treat me like one. The teasing of ‘band geeks’ doesn’t reach far beyond movies these days, in my school or any other school one of my many out-of-town friends attend. Same goes, it seems, for overachieving ‘nerds’.
But what about the others? I was a frizzy-haired, four-eyed, brace-face for about a year. Where was the teasing then? It could have been my couldn’t-really-care-less attitude towards social hierarchy that kept me under the bullies’ radar, it could have been the large number of people I tend to hang around at any given time, or it could have been something else entirely.
All I know is, prejudice has never played a role in my life far beyond history books, and I was utterly shocked to see that it was so common. And so, at the risk of sounding cold-hearted—and maybe a little conspiracy-theorist—I have to wonder, is prejudice really that common? We hear about bullying all the time—how it gets so bad that some teenagers just snap and decide that life’s not worth it anymore—and I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but how much of the everyday, minor annoyances are merely innocent misunderstandings?
The essay The Myth of a Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named María by Judith Ortiz Cofer, for example. Many of her assertions about Latina-directed prejudice are completely fair and true, but her last example about the elderly woman who mistook her for a waitress seemed a little overly sensitive. She’s standing in a restaurant setting, wearing nice clothes (I assume she is, anyway, as she’s doing a poetry reading), and holding a little notebook and pencil. She’d look like a waitress whether she was Puerto Rican or not.
So how much prejudice is really prejudice? I don’t know. But I do know that it has never played a role in my life, for which I am grateful, but I know that if it’s as common as it seems, then I’ll likely come across it at some time or another.
And if it is, in fact as common as it seems, all I can say is, God help us all; because a society marred by such discrimination can never endure.