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.
On September 8, 2018, I attended the 2018 Murfeesboro “Boro Pride” Parade. I took a friend of mine who also had to write a similar paper for a separate class. We got off the interstate and took a turn toward the festivities. There were two gentlemen with signs on either side of the streets at an intersection. One of the men had a sign and a megaphone. He was reciting Bible scripture. The other man had a sign with the 10 commandments on it. I felt like they were a reasonable distance away from the parade area. I believe everyone has a right to voice their opinions in respectful ways. We found parking and started toward the event. I noticed as we walked toward the square, it wasn’t actually a parade. Everyone appeared stationary. There was a rainbow balloon archway where you walked into the event. There was a band to the left. There was a large group of people in front of the stage. We steered right. There were booths set up throughout the event. The first booth we came to was for “Reducing the stigma of HIV one conversation at a time”. The man at the tent was knowledgeable about testing. There was a testing site on the other side of the event where they prick your finger for the testing. He asked that we go get tested. At the tent, there was a bowl of peppermints, a bowl of buttons for support and a bowl of condoms. My friend and I giggled but at the same time respected the cause and I thanked him for what he was trying to accomplish. We continued on our adventure. There were several tents with rainbow pride accessories for sale. Most everyone had something rainbow on; from a headband to an entire outfit shining with glitter and color head to toe. There was a church tent that was giving away free hugs. This was one of my favorite tents. These sweet ladies were standing outside their tents, completely putting themselves out there, waiting on the next person to hug. More amazingly, the people who came by embraced them for a hug. It sent chills down my entire body knowing the two completely different sides of the gay subject coming together in a full on hug. Both parties seemed to enjoy it and seemed almost relieved and achieved that they did it. We moved on to another tent of “church people” handing out water. It was very humid and I was thankful for the water. My friend and I walked up and were offered water. We took the water bottles and I could tell on the woman’s face who handed it to me, she was praying for me. The prayer is between her and God but I appreciated whatever she had to say to God. We kept walking around, looking at all of the tents and the merchandise. I noticed a couple that were probably in their mid-50s. I only assume they were a couple. They appeared to be so happy to just be themselves. They weren’t dressed up in bling. They were wearing every day clothes. I could tell they were happy to be supporting what they believed in and more importantly, they were able to be who they were without judgement. We saw several families like this. Some held hands. Some sat back and enjoyed the entertainment. There were families with children running around, showering each other with glitter. I was happy to see the people in their element and free. We made it back around to the stage and decided to go around one more time. We felt more comfortable the next time around. We knew the area better and could maneuver the walkways. It was packed. We noticed a group of girls taking selfies in front of the Boro Pride stand. I try not to be a judge of people but at the same time, my job is to watch and learn people by their behaviors. Both my friend and I felt that there was a large chance no one in the group was gay. They spent minutes taking pictures of each other. I was glad their minds were open to the idea but I had doubts of why they were supporting the cause. Sometimes I hope I am wrong about my thoughts. When we realized they weren’t going to be done for a while, my friend and I just decided to stand beside it and take a picture for our proof of attending. We continued around the event for the last time. We noticed so many different types of people. There was a group of men who had beautiful dresses on and make up better applied than I could have ever done myself. There were groups of women who had their chests duct taped down with no shirts on. There were visibly gay family members that had their, what appeared to be, visibly not gay family members in attendance for support. I am not gay. It was uncomfortable to be around everyone. I worried that my “not gayness” was sticking out. I worried that someone would ask why I was at such an event. That did not happen. I learned that in 2018 people are trying to respect each other while still holding onto their own beliefs. I learned that there are several different levels of enjoyment at an event such as this and that is what makes the event successful in my opinion. I believe attending events such as this one, helps my mind accept all things, not just what I like and believe. If I attend events that are not in my norm, I will become more comfortable with other’s ways of life. When I work with families that are “different” than I, I will appear calm and collective and in return, the families will be comfortable and secure in the environment we are in.