Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Prejudice

He Isn't One Of Us

Since I am a member of the Caucasian Anglo-Saxon race, being discriminated against was never something that was a big deal when I was growing up. We were the ones that were always taught by our parents to be tolerant and not look down or act differently toward others. the only contact I ever had with prejudice or racism was from the other children in grade school who didn't like that my father was a higher rank than theirs, or the occasional racial explicative uttered by the children who didn't have 'good' parents.

There wasn't anything in my racial or ethnic background that was going to hinder me. After all, I was a white man in a white man's country. The sky was the limit. At least that is what I thought.

I grew up in a very guarded and controlled world as we moved from one military base to another. It was all "Father Knows Best" and the "Brady Bunch", whether you liked it or not. So when I eventually flew the nest and went to college there were some surprises in store.

I went to college at Oregon State University (OSU). It was an angelic little place, in a small town nestled in the Willamette Valley, between the Cascade Mountains and the Oregon Coast Range. The school and town could have been drawn by Norman Rockwell. But school, by it's very nature, is a learning process and what I learned at OSU was mostly in the realm of social interaction and not from books or professors.

Oregon State was mostly populated with kids from Portland and some from Eugene. Many of these youngsters had never left home before, much less left the state. Their idea of being worldly was the trip they took to Disneyland in 1966. So I found it rather odd, while attending many a college party, that I got asked the same questions over and over.

1) What part of town (Portland) do you live in?
2) What high school (in Portland) did you attend?
3) What does your father do for a living and where does he work?

I got asked these questions repeatedly during my first year in college and it finally dawned on me why they kept coming up. These kids from Portland were trying to pigeon hole me into a category that they could understand. Finding out where you lived denoted your economic class in their world. Was I from the elite part of town or from the trailer park on the south side of the railroad tracks.

The school I would have attended was another form of categorizing, since some schools were considered 'cooler' than others and there were lots of scholastic rivalries in Portland. You didn't want to leave town and start associating with folks that were your previous rival.

Finally, where your father worked denoted economic class, a certain amount of clout (lawyer, CEO, architect) and also whether or not your parents were divorced. Living with your divorced mother who was a secretary wasn't the same as living with your married Aerospace Engineer daddy and his blond trophy wife.

These three things pretty much summed up the type of person you were and whether or not the person asking the questions wanted to associate with you. They were a sort of test to determine if you were cool enough and acceptable enough and they weren't timid about asking. It was like a police officer asking for your license and registration.

Since I didn't fit in any of their categories my peers didn't really know what to make of me. They sort of put a question mark next to my name and treated me like a foreign exchange student. I didn't fit into their neat and compartmentalized world. Because I knew more than they did and didn't have any preconceived notions, I was discriminated against.

It was my first taste of prejudice. It is an ugly thing, and I really feel sorry for the folks that don't realize that they even have it.