Tuesday, March 24, 2015

All The Same

All the Same

 What do native and Hispanic Americans and southern rednecks have in common? Each of these ethnic groups is considered others. Probably the most famous other in history has been the Jews, and for that distinction they have suffered greatly.  Yet, all of the above ethnic groups similarly have endured discrimination at the hands of the majority. Even today these ethnic groups – and the many that are like them—are portrayed in largely negative terms. Typically they are seen as uneducated, prone to laziness, drinking and fighting.

As someone who identifies in part as a southern redneck, I see how we are viewed in much of contemporary society. All that one needs to do is look at pictures on Google or some other search engine, and you will see people identified as rednecks, or hillbillies with teeth missing, long beards, old clothes, and so on. Rednecks are shown as rebellious, somewhat racist Southerners who love racing cars, making moonshine and fear outsiders.  Even though positive aspects like the ability to do manual labor, family closeness and a strong religious faith are often noted, these images too often lock this group into stereotypes that limit opportunities creating a double-bind.

On the one hand, if they fail to be proficient in those stereotypes, then they are viewed as a poseur and not a true redneck, even though they have may dress and look the part and live in the rural south.  On the other hand, if they are seen as matching these characteristics then the opposite is true. Though they are recognized as a true redneck, they could never be viewed as anything else, such as an intellectual, a company boss or a business manager. In short, rednecks are defined by others as those who work manually and live in the country, and are other.  This experience seems largely the same with the

Recently Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated. For most people, it was a time of frivolity to celebrate Irish traditions. Yet about 100 years ago, Irish immigrants were treated contemptuously. They were portrayed as drunk, lazy people who were prone to fight—views that remain in place today.  Many had to live in the slums and work in jobs that others would did not want to do.  The ridicule that they witnessed then has manifested itself in the views that many have of Rednecks and Hispanics.

There has been much strife recently about racial tensions in this country. I am not disputing that. Often left out are discussions about the prejudice of ethnicity.  Thankfully we do see much violence perpetuated toward those of a different ethnic class, for largely these are vestiges of the past. Nonetheless these stereotypes remain, for they are entrenched with our collective psyche. The problem of prejudice is not only geared towards of another race, it also manifests itself as animosity towards those who look, act, and dress differently, especially if these are due to cultural distinctions.

The world is full of categories. It is easy to put people into a certain group that we feel defines them. All of us do it, yet each of us, to one degree or another resist those identifications ourselves. Most people have multiple dimensions to their personality. They may be very studious, and fit into a “nerd” stereotype, while also enjoying music and sports—two activities that are not identified with that subgroup. Or, someone may dress like a biker, with long scraggly hair, and multiple tattoos—a persona of toughness, while at the same time, enjoying reading or other quiet activities.

Racial differences are the easiest to recognize. Ethic, cultural or personality differences are much harder. These are the ones, that seem persist in defining our categories. Yet we need to resist. The world needs to recognize and appreciate more fully the non-racial differences that exist between people.

The Imago Dei! Usually this phrase is used by Christians to imply that all are made in God’s image, somehow though it seems as if it is largely confined to racial or sexist stereotypes. Yet, for it to be true, it must include the ethnic and cultural stereotypes.

Jesus does not fit into such a stereotype. He has been labeled as a pacificist, a socialist, a militant, a learned teacher—or Rabbi—and one of the regular unsophisticated commoners, for while he interacted with women and children, he could also go toe-to-toe with the religious scholars of this day.

First impressions usually fail. People are more than their ethnic group or personality. It is easy to categorize people. But to live in peace, we need to strive to see the person beyond—the one who is not other, but connected, for all are the same.