It’s Important to Listen: Regarding Racism and Prejudice

In the 1980s, I grew up in a small town in the California Bay Area. 

Was it diverse in population?  Not necessarily.  In fact, it was predominantly white.
The town next to us was more diverse, and as it was known and taught to many of us at the time, dangerous.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear of knives and guns being pulled on people in that town.

But, my town was relatively quiet.  In fact, most of the noise in my home town was from kids like me, just playing in the suburban streets.  Although there was one school shooting at the High School that shall forever be a part of our lives.

I don’t know and never understood why there was such a dramatic difference between the two towns. Until I started getting older.  To say I am privileged is an understatement of the century, and I didn’t realize it until I moved from that small town across the country to Tidewater, Virginia.

Now I was told to be prepared for a culture shock, and no matter how much I tried to prepare myself for the differences in culture between the Bay Area and Southeastern Virginia… I never really was.

One would think growing up in the Bay Area I would be very liberal thinking in my ideology.  This is a common misconception that I’ve heard over the years that stating you’re from the Bay Area means that you’re very liberal – both in ideology and politically.  In fact, this is not the case with me as I’m rather independent in my ideology and tend to be a bit more conservative on specific subjects.

It’s interesting when discussing various matters as we all have a bias in one direction or another – whether political, religious and so forth.  This is because we are all raised differently, by different parents/caregivers and in different areas of the world.  Each area we live in has its own culture, and we as individuals are by-products of our local cultures.

I’m sharing a bit of my background today as I was asked my thoughts on the current #BlackLivesMatter protests, and to be honest, I can’t remain silent on this issue.  

Even though I grew up in that small town, my parents made it a point to play devil’s advocate.  Sometimes this made me mad, but it forced me to look at things from a different perspective.  To have empathy, or to at least try and understand someone else’s point of view before I shared mine, was encouraged.  Suffice it to say, it was during these moments where I realized – my point of view never really mattered.  The point of these exercises was not to come up with an answer, a solution, or to cite ‘best practices’… the point was to listen.   

And listening is not something we as humans do well, in fact, we have to seriously work on it. 

Even after all of these years, I still have challenges listening.

Why?  My personal bias.  Something we are all guilty of, regardless of our background.

When I moved here, I was told to be mindful of the difference in culture from living on the west coast.  Little did I know that what I experienced in culture shock was a fraction of what was really going on in our country, let alone our world.

As the riots occurred in the early 90s with Rodney King, much of the discussion regarding racism came and went… with little, if any, change, really occurring.  Most people saw it as a bunch of people messing up their own city and locality and it didn’t impact them directly – so why bother.

Here we are, 30 years later, and what can we say will cause real change?  Nothing… unless we listen.

If being an autism parent of a non-verbal child has taught me anything, it’s taught me that when my son is not being heard – he will be violent.  He will act out his hurt, his pain, his anguish – in order to get his point across that he is hurting.   

The only way to help my son in these situations is to let him go through his process and to allow him to work through that current situation. 
Can it hurt allowing him to do this?  YES, IT DOES HURT!  But you HAVE TO deal with it.  You HAVE TO work on a response that doesn’t chastise, but rather reaffirms his positive actions.  How do we do this?  We LISTEN, and then we peacefully acknowledge and accept.  Then we find where we went wrong, where the help is required… and take appropriate action.  Now, am I perfect at listening to my son each time he acts out?  Absolutely not!  I have challenges each time it happens, and therefore  I’m not surprised as our responses as a society haven’t changed immediately as a result in situations like what is happening today.  After all, change of any type takes time – and a lot of practice and patience.

I’ve always been taught that racism and prejudice are the byproducts of bias as a result of a limited perspective.  Racism and prejudice impact all communities, and right now the black community is expressing hurt, pain, anguish, and frustration in many different ways.  

In that small town, I was taught the plight of the Native Americans and the trail of tears.  I met firsthand people who were at Auschwitz during World War II and my 4th-grade teacher was a Japanese American who was forced to live in an internment camp.  I recognized early on that America, like many countries worldwide, has had it’s share of history that it’s not to be proud of… and we have to learn from these mistakes so as we are not doomed to repeat them.  As we listen to those in the black community, will we fail again by not listening to them like we failed by not listening to what happened 30 years ago during the LA Riots after Rodney King was brutally beaten up by local law enforcement?

I recognize the bias I’ve had throughout my life and acknowledge that in today’s world, we have to cast aside bias, and see this for what it is – pain being inflicted on our fellow man.  This affliction has lasted for hundreds of years, and we have made little – if any – progress.

The community, the world, is crying out to be heard right now… but are we listening?   

Will we revisit this topic in another 30 years? I hope not.  But if history is any indicator on this matter, the only way to make a change of this magnitude – is to begin by really listening and taking what is going on to heart, and see about making a change.

Often a change like this isn’t done legislatively, it is done by changing hearts… by healing the pain.

And to heal a pain like this… like when my son has a violent meltdown… is by listening.  

To those who are hurt – I’m listening.

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*photo: Chief of Department of the New York City Police, Terence Monahan, hugs an activist. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

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Joel Manzer
Husband to an Amazing Wife, and Father of a Child with Autism. Founding Lead Editor of this site called Autisable. Click here to join Autisable!
Joel Manzer

Joel Manzer

Husband to an Amazing Wife, and Father of a Child with Autism. Founding Lead Editor of this site called Autisable. Click here to join Autisable!

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