Peruse, ponder, connect, act.
Not very long back, I sat on a bench along with my wife at St Mark’s Square in Venice. Having decided to explore the land interior where the buildings were built long back on the marsh lands and having passed through the narrow winding lanes we decided to give a pause to our tiring feet. In Venice you either go by the boat or use your feet; no other transportation means were visible. Soon we were joined on the bench by a middle-aged Italian attired in a casual suit. After the pleasantries, I learnt, he was a local on short leave to oversee the repairs to his house. Majority of the residential houses in Venice remain vacant, as their owners are on the mainland Italy busy earning their livelihood. Most of the buildings look worn out and faded a sour sight on the beautiful Island. His name was Alberto (I forget the rest of the length that follows). He was a civil engineer working in Florence Municipality. We sat chatting mainly about India. Suddenly he pointed towards the building in front of us and the conversation that followed is narrated subsequently.
“Do you see anything peculiar about the building?” He asked. I looked up and found a normal two storied residential independent bungalow. I kept quiet, leaving him to give the reply.
“OK. You see the main door and all the windows are not facing us but are skewed at an angle, towards our right.” He said. I looked hard. His eureka did not appeal to me. The doors and windows stared at us face on; no tilt, no slant. I kept quiet.
“You know the reason?” he inquired. Getting no response he continued.
“The house belonged to a Jew. He had the doors and windows not facing straight for a reason”, he paused.
“Now turn around.” He asked us and we did. We saw an ancient stately church facing us.
“Now you know the reason,” he said, “The Jew did not want to see the Church from his windows or face it as he came out from the main door!”
I remained stunned for a while, looked towards my wife, a bemused smile playing on her lips. We shook hands with Alberto and left.
The word prejudice is most often used to refer to preconceived judgments toward people or a person because of gender, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, nationality or other personal characteristics. Gordon Allport defined prejudice as a “feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience.” The emphasis is on “not based on actual experience” ie on here say, that our parents and their parents said, that the society or the community follows and expects and that our leaders exhort. Little realizing that the rigid thinkers who obeyed authority, saw the world as black and white, and enforced strict adherence to social rules and hierarchies.
The responsibility for the Crucifixion of Jesus and his death has been placed on the Jews, rather than the Roman emperor or Pontius Pilate, therefore Christians for centuries have viewed Jews as “the Christ Killers” leading to Jews being subject to a wide range of legal restrictions throughout the Middle Ages, some of which lasted until the end of the 19th century. Jews were excluded from many trades; Often Jews were barred from all occupations but money-lending and peddling, with even these at times forbidden.
The Nazis used Martin Luther’s book, on the “Jews and Their Lies” , to claim a moral righteousness for their ideology. Luther even went so far as to advocate the murder of those Jews who refused to convert to Christianity, writing that “we are at fault in not slaying them” .Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology may not have flourished nor it may have been carried out. Too many Christians appeared to be sympathetic to Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities.
Nothing more is frustrating than our prejudices against women. Throughout history, women have been thought of as being subordinate to men, and sadly even today this is promoted in some quarters. Enough has been said and written but the prejudice remains.
Nationalism, during times of conflict between one nation and another, leads to confrontation between those rallying the people of the nation in support of a particular political goal and those who are considered outsiders. The prejudices arise from the lack of integration and mutual respect and understanding of varying ideologies and the presence of suspicion. Since the identity of nationalists is linked to their allegiance to the state, the presence of strangers who do not share this allegiance may result in hostility. A body of citizens cheering and applauding the opponents on the play field or the battle ground does hurt but is the resultant outcome.
Personally, prior to my exposure to the international arena, the Arabs were virtuous and did no harm and the blacks were to be shunned. How immature! Today I know and feel the reality in the correct perspectives and my prejudices have vanished towards them completely. Individually the Arabs are as good or as bad as the blacks and so are the whites, the yellow and the brown. Racism can occur amongst any group that can be identified based upon physical features or even characteristics of their culture. Though people may be lumped together and called a specific race, everyone does not fit neatly into such categories, making it hard to define and describe a race accurately. Aristotle believed in the concept of “natural slaves”, which today is a myth! Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” is at the center stage.
I often wonder how it would look; a prejudice free society. No tension, no confrontations, no big, no small, all equal, smiling, peace and above all harmony and love! I know I am dreaming!!
But then someone please tell me “Why do we have to live and die with our prejudices?”