I am a first-generation American. My father and his family moved from Germany, when he was 5 years old, to Texas. My father had to learn English and his family forced him to embrace American ways so that he would succeed in life in America. My father lost his German language skills through the years and if you met him on the street today, you would think he was just as “American” as the rest of us. My grandmother, although she learned English and follows American ways, is still very German. She speaks German fluently and still holds the German customs high.
My family always taught me to never look at someone’s skin color. I say these things as a background for my explanation of prejudice from my eyes. I started school at a local county school and my mind was blown. There was one black family in the entire school. There were two black students in my class, who were first cousins. Growing up in North Alabama, I learned at an early age what discrimination was. There was a group of high school aged boys with shaved heads that would meet in the mornings before school and blow their horns and yell around the area. I learned that they were called “skinheads” and they believed in racism and white supremacy. I was over at one of my friend’s houses for a spend-the-night party one time and her dad and uncle discussed hitting a black man for points on a non-existent scoreboard they had kept up with for years. There was a bar a few miles from the school that did not allow black people to enter.
As a young adult, I experienced other races discriminating against me for the color of my skin. I have been talked to like I hated other races, without being asked my opinion. I have been ignored on several occasions while I was the minority of a group. I have had to defend myself in situations that embarrassed me simply because of my color. I believe I was sheltered but I do not believe it was an incorrect decision on my parents’ part.
I tend to discriminate against ignorance. I say ignorance because they live in a normative-cultural environment. They follow customs of their community. They are accepted when they follow such ideas. I also struggle with the stereotypes of southern families. The man works and the woman stays at home, taking care of the children. The man does what he wants and the woman is left to make a decent home and take care of the children. The woman is not expected to gain education. The man is not expected to gain further education, either. It is acceptable to quit school at sixteen and gain a full time job. There is little desire to excel further in life. This way of living is passed down to the children. I know this is not the way everyone lives. I also know that knowledge has improved and families are beginning to want a better life.
It is hard when I work with families who do not want to better themselves because they do not know the improvement they are missing. I struggle with this prejudice in the community I work for. I have to learn how to meet people where they are at. I have to accept them for who they are and what they believe in. I have to be careful of their feelings when I express the need for change to parent their children in a safe environment free from alcohol/substance or physical abuse. I have to understand that although I am working with a particular family- expecting change, the environment the family is in will likely not change. When a family discusses racism as the norm, I have to carefully explain that race in itself is not a reason for blaming in the community, but at the same time, I cannot expect change in their minds and it is not my job to change that aspect of their life. As a social worker, we are to embrace our family’s differences of lifestyles. I choose to put myself in situations that will broaden my understanding of groups that I do not naturally belong to.