Where Prejudice Begins

I answered the following essay question for a university I applied to, “What effect has being a person of color had on your life, identity and struggles for equality and success?”

Although, my complexion is caramel, I have never felt discrimination coming from the exterior forces due to the color of my skin. Until I wrote this paper, I did not realize that interior forces influenced racial and ethnic inequality in my life. I unconsciously adopted my step-father’s prejudice beliefs. First, I was afraid of white people as a child. Secondly, education was never encouraged or praised in my family’s culture, and lastly, my step-father segregated us from other races and ethnicities.

My mom’s boyfriend communication about Caucasian people, lead me to unconsciously fear them. He spoke very negatively, violently, and with hatred about the white race. Hearing him speak in such manners formulated believes in my mind that all white people where evil and hated Mexicans. The media reinforced these beliefs by targeting Mexican immigration issues and depicting the “white” politicians deporting my people. I struggled in school because I was intimidated by white kids. I thought they were smarter than Mexican kids, and I thought they hated us. These inhibited any success and allow much inequality within myself. Someone within my own race and ethnicity indirectly told me, we were inferior to white people.

Photograph by Ana Barajas

Photograph by Ana Barajas

In continuance, education was never encouraged or praised in my family’s culture. My mother is the only person in her generation to obtain a higher education (a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design) in Mexico. However, due to language barriers she has not practiced in her field since we move to the United States. She rarely attended open house or other school events. She never encouraged me to do well in school, so I believed it was not important. Since education did not matter, then I did not deserve praise for achieving academic success (success that always occurred “accidentally”). Teachers always praised me for my successes; however, I particularly did not care, or believed their encouragement. Once in high school, one of my paintings won first place to be hung up on walls for a new restaurant in Palatine. When they made the announcement in class, I expressed no emotions and I never showed up to the grand opening to see my self-portrait hung up. It was simply not a big deal, I was Mexican and it did not matter. This played a role in placing a barrier between me, success and equality.

Lastly, my step-father segregated us from other races and ethnicities. I do not believe it was intentional to cause harm; however, his personal fears, bias, and prejudice lead him to act in a racist manner, perhaps unconsciously. If we played with children of darker color, we were scolded or given the “eye”. It was the unspoken rule about color classifications—the darker a person, the less their value. My step-father also classified shades of “white” in his speech. Anyone who was Polish or Russian, first generation in the United States, lacked worthiness as well. This was because they were immigrants like us—we were equals, meaning less valuable than the white people who were born in the U.S.

As a child, I knew there should not be differences between people due to the color of skin. Since I had grater worries growing up, neither racism nor prejudice were carried past my childhood. Today, I feel save to move in crowds of diverse people and feel we are all equal. I have been treated equally by all races and ethnicities. I have treated all people with dignity and respect. I struggled with answering these questions, but as I dug deep within myself, I realized that as a child my parent’s fears unconsciously became my own. First, I retrieved memories of fear towards white people. Secondly, education was never encouraged or praised in my family’s culture, perhaps, due to feelings of inferiority, and lastly, I remembered my step-father segregating us from other races and ethnicities.

I thank Jesus that this did not carry into my adulthood, but there are many people who carry prejudice and racist beliefs because it began at home!

I wonder how many youngsters grow up experiencing this; thinking racism is ok because of the behavior of their parents? Did you ever experience eniquality? Did your family members lead you to believe prejudice is ok due to their unconscious behavior?

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