Prejudice

I think that prejudice is probably a necessary part of human life. For example, to walk peaceably down any street or road, we have to assume that most of people we encounter are not out to hurt us. Otherwise we would not function as communities like we do. I have experienced this benign human behavior in many parts of the world.

     Yet there is a negative side to prejudging each other when we look at a black man and see danger, or look at a man in a skullcap and long beard and mutter “Damned Kikes,” and so forth.

     I have seen prejudice in America, Costa Rica, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Greece, Spain, Venezuela and other places I’ve visited. Sometimes the bias was in my own heart.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York where the school curriculum included propaganda about the brotherhood of man. They inculcated respect for people of other faiths, races and ethnic backgrounds. I remember these classes going back to elementary school in the 1940’s and 50’s. I bought into the concept.

My church was the First Dutch Reformed Church of Flatbush. You might think apartheid, ala South Africa, but nothing could be further from the truth. In Sunday school we would make occasional trips to synagogues to have rabbis explain the Jewish faith, show us the Torah, and answer questions about Jews. It was very positive.

Yet I shared the prejudices of the day. I feared and hated Japs and Germans. Even kids saw their atrocities on newsreels. I also believed that Southerners were cruel to black people and everything outside of New York City was camping out. I even proved this last belief by taking the subway to the George Washington Bridge with my 13-year-old buddies, and then walking our gear across the George Washington Bridge to go camping on the Palisades in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

When I was in the Middle East the people seemed so exotic. They were kind and helpful to my wife and me when we were in trouble, several times rescuing us from bad situations on the streets. Funny thing is, whenever I saw a black person there I vibed “American and friendly.”

So, there came a time when I was being closely questioned by the Abu Dhabi Chief of Police in the United Arab Emirates. He was accompanied by a huge black man; 6’6″ tall, 300 pounds of muscle, and an hombre of very dark complexion. He wore a brigadier general’s uniform.

The black man introduced himself as the Sheik’s Sudanese advisor. His voice was well modulated and, for some stupid reason, I liked him a lot – at first. I now realize that not all black people are the same as my friends at home. The Police Chief spoke only Arabic and Brigadier Sudan was our go-between. I wasn’t the one paying him.

Over the years I heard Costa Rican people say that Nicaraguan’s are dirty thieving wetbacks, Greek people state emphatically that Albanians were without morals besides being poor and dirty, and Americans complain about Mexicans and other undocumented aliens.

Here are some examples from my experience:

This incident took place in the parlor of the bread and breakfast joint where we were holed up in downtown, Manama, Bahrain.

There was a run-in with Daisy’s ex-husband, David. He is from Lebanon and, he claimed to be a former “Mr. Lebanon” body-builder. He was a very muscular guy clad in dirty work clothes He had a swarthy Bahraini policeman at his side. He was threatening me with mayhem in Arabic in the windowless room.

There was another big strong guy in the room. He was dressed in gleaming white Arab robes. There were just the four of us. I took the big guy to be his lawyer. We had a hell of a verbal row. I was the only one in the room who was yelling in English. I thought I was about to be locked up.

Suddenly, as the yelling reached a peak, David got up and stomped out of the door, down the stairs, and out of the building with the policeman at his heels. His lawyer stayed behind and I was shocked when he introduced him self as Abu Shaker’s son – co-owner of the B and B.

He said, “Boy. That was one nasty guy. He threatened you so much that the cop told him to shut up or he would have to go to jail. He won’t be back.” He spoke perfect English.

Abu Shaker Smiled at me with big white teeth. He rolled up the sleeve of his garment and showed me a muscular forearm. He said, “I told him that if he wanted to show us his muscles we would show him ours. Those damn Lebanese are so pushy. They think they own everything.”

Here’s another example:

We had an international firm of lawyers helping us in Bahrain. There was an English partner, an Egyptian partner and an Arab partner. I later learned that the Arabic guy was from Iran and not Arabic at all. I now think the Bahrainis did not like any of them because they were all foreign.

Mohammad, the Egyptian, was a tall guy with a charming Irish accent, and beautiful manners. He told us, “Don’t worry. You will be safe here. Bahrain’s laws are based on the great principles of the Egyptian legal system.”

Some weeks later he had us come to his office for a talk. His face was dark and emotional. “You two,” he said, “have been accused of being Zionists.

“Is this true?” he challenged.

“Oh no,” we said. We are not political at all. That is just rubbish coming from David.”

“Good…” he said as he rose from his chair. His face was turning purple with rage. “Because I can’t stand those fucking Kikes!”

So there it is. I want to be a better person. I try to learn.

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