A New Tier of Prejudice

Recent events have given me pause.

I commented in a previous post about sexism in science fiction, which caused me to reexamine my reading patterns. Notably, I am making a conscious effort to read more books by women authors and authors of different cultures. Aside from Scott Lynch’s must-read Republic of Thieves, I have been delving into Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls and some of the short fiction of James Tiptree, Jr. I plan to pay closer attention to the spectrum of authors I am reading in the future.

Then there is the Trayvon Martin case. There is one reaction that has really been bugging me. I see people posting links to articles that distance themselves from the racial elements, distancing themselves from what is moralistically right or wrong, and [insert snobbish voice] examining the technicalities of the case to show why Zimmerman should be not guilty.

For many people in this country, this is not a case about the legal system or the intricacies of this specific incident. It’s about black people still not being treated fairly in this country. There are many isolated incidents to draw on to prove this point, but perhaps the larger problem is what I will call a new tier of prejudice. It’s the prejudice that occurs that people don’t even recognize they have. It’s the walking on the opposite side of the street because of a subconscious suspicion. It’s the favoring of certain coworkers because of different first impressions. It’s the lack of a cordial hello to a certain segment of the population because of how they look. And these underlying differences are not just about skin tone or restricted to one ethnicity. In many cases, it’s a fear of cultural differences. Xenophobia. We all have it to some extent. Some more, some less. Recognizing it is the first step. Making a conscious effort to overcome this second tier of prejudice comes next.

Like I mentioned above, I am striving to read more books by more women and from people from different cultures. Reading is one thing, but actively participating is another. We fear other cultures because they are foreign to us. In horror fiction, the greatest dread is created on the premise of fearing the unknown. The only way to arrest this fear is to  make the unknown known. There are many opportunities to acquaint one’s self with different cultures, be it through attending cultural festivals or better yet — reaching out and broadening one’s friendship circles. Readers and writers have a tendency to be introverted, sheltering themselves in their homes behind a computer screen or a book. This comes at a cost and like it or not, it may include a fear of other cultures. And it requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone to change it.

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