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Prejudice is Like Genetics: It is Passed From Generation to Generation

Posted May 5th, 2011 by cws_mcqu

Over the last weekend, while visiting my family members, I was able to witness the reinforcement of societal prejudice. Although my they come from a conservative background, what was said during a conversation at dinner was inexcusable. With my brothers sitting at the dinner table, a family member openly made comments degrading people of the Middle East.

It all started as a normal trip to see my little brothers. I had not seen them for over two months, so I was really excited. After hanging out with them for a while, I noticed one of my younger brothers, the older one of the two, making comments about Obama and other people of color. He would assume that Obama is Muslim and say that it is because of him that more terrorists would come to the US. Taken back by his comments, I dug deeper into my little brother’s comments. I started by asking him why he thinks that Obama is Muslim. He replied by saying that he has heard rumors and that is what “everyone jokes about”. Then I asked him if he knew that Obama is the only president to be questioned of his religious beliefs. He said that he hadn’t. Then I asked him who terrorists were, and he responded by telling me that it was people from Iraq, Afghanistan, and that general area. Given the fact that he is 13, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that what he was saying was not intended to be malicious. I then went on to explain to him that he cannot judge an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. I went into great detail regarding the wonderful people I have worked with and befriended from the Middle East, and how none of them have a mean bone in their bodies. I then explained that during the Second World War, we would have been considered terrorists since we are descendants of Japanese immigrants and are ¼ Japanese. I told him that our great grandparents had to sit in internment camps because they were considered dangerous only because they were from Japan. Neither of my great grandparents were born in Japan! Then I asked him if he would consider Great Grammy and Grampy to be terrorists 60 years ago. Finally, he reluctantly accepted my logic and explanation to not project his views onto others, and to not stereotype various groups based on a select group of people.

Later that same evening, my father came home and took the family out to eat. For some reason, the topic of school came up, and I was asked to tell them what all I was working on. After going through the standard list of classes that they would deem normative, I mentioned that I was working on a project with two of my friends that were from Saudi Arabia, and they really enlightened me about the travelling abroad experience. I told my family how scary it was for my friends to come to the US not knowing a single word of English. One of my friends even told me that he was lost on Kings Blvd for seven hours because he could not communicate to anyone and could not ask how to get home. Then my family member interrupted me and asked if they were terrorists. I laughed and said no, thinking that they was kidding, but then I realized that it was a joke that led him to believe what he had heard earlier. They then asked if they knew words like ‘Jihad’ or ‘Osama Bin Laden’. I ignored the question, and I firmly reassured him that these were nice people, and that terrorists come from all over the world and not just the Middle East. I told them that Americans were considered terrorists by the British before their independence was granted, and I wasn’t sure what he was trying to prove.  Then they asked if the two were Muslim or “wore towels on their heads”. I looked at him in disbelief. Here I am with my family member throwing some of the most prejudice statements out in front of my little brothers and smiling like it is okay. I ended the conversation and moved it to something else because I could see it going out of hand. I said that I was not sure whether or not they were Muslim, and I was not going to assume one way or the other because that would be stereotyping. I also told him, before I changed the topic, that whether they were Muslim or not, they were still nice people.

As a result of this conversation, my family member has openly invited my little brothers to take part in such conversations of attacking others based on their identities. This movement from generation to generation of prejudice is the key element that reinforces societal oppression. With all the theory that I have been taught about the growth and survival of institutionalized oppression, here I was witnessing the growth first hand. However, although this is an obvious example, institutionalized oppression occurs on the smallest of scales. A joke in the hallway of a residence hall, an inappropriate assumption about someone based on the way they look or act, a comment made that may be degrading. In other words, it takes place all around us and we need to start nipping it in the bud before it continues to grow and fester in our minds making us believe that it is acceptable. Even if the comment is made without the intent to harm, the idea of oppression is still entertained, it will still affect our judgments, and it will still affect the way we think on a day to day basis. Don’t give the green light to oppression. Stop it before it is generated within you.

Kameron Beeks

Community Relations Facilitator

East Side and Co-operative Houses

RHA Liaison

The comments shared by the Community Relations Facilitator program are strictly the point of view from the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of UHDS. If this article has inspired a desire to dialogue, the author, or another CRF and/or any Resident Assistant, Resident Director or CoOp Director would be happy to participate. Please contact Nina Gassoway ( to assist in making arrangements.

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    Prejudice is Like Genetics: It is Passed From Generation to Generation – Experience of a Lifetime