I was recently hanging out with a friend of mine. He was born in Mexico and lived there until 1998 when he moved to Portland. We were deciding where to go for coffee and I suggested a location on Hawthorne Blvd. He responded to my question with something like, "No, I don't like that area. The people there are fake and snobbish."
I felt myself bristle as I heard these judgments and a few others he offered. I began to argue for a larger view, "You can't judge everyone on Hawthorne, not everyone is like that."
I immediately felt a disconnect from him and myself.
I took and breath and thought, "Okay, just stay with him and guess his feelings and needs."
The dialogue went something like this:
Me: So you feel uncomfortable on Hawthorne?
My friend: Yes. People are rude.
Me: They don't treat you with respect?
My friend: They don't look at me or speak to me in the same way as the white customers.
Me: That must be painful to be treated differently, not get the respect there that you want?
My friend: Yea (then he got quiet a moment and I could feel him soften). What are we going to do, that's our world.
My heart opened and I could feel the appreciation in his voice that I could hear the pain he had experienced.
This is a pretty mild example of encountering prejudice and with a friend it's a relatively easy context to make the switch to empathy.
For me, as a white woman, it is pretty rare that I am the recipient of prejudice, but it is not so rare that I hear prejudice remarks around me or hear stories from my friends of color about prejudice they have experienced.
Responding with empathy for both the receiver and giver of prejudice allows me to be a peaceful and healing presence rather than adding my anger to the pot. Though anger often comes up before I can move to a connected place.
If you have been the recipient of prejudice and would like some ideas about how to respond in a way that creates connection, please send me your examples and I will include them in future gems.
This week when you hear an expression of prejudice, ask yourself what feelings and needs come up for you and what feelings and needs might be behind the expression .