By Michael Scully
From the earliest days of humanity, people have tended to mistrust and mistreat those who are not like them. This particularly applies to persons of different races and religious beliefs. But the funny thing is, no person has ever been born with an instinctive tendency to dislike or distrust anyone of a different creed or color. It is all learned behavior.
Simply observe any innocent child who has not yet learned to judge or hate. Theirs is a magical world in which anyone and everyone is trusted and loved unconditionally. It's only through observing their parents, siblings, neighbors, extended family and later on classmates, teachers and numerous other influences that prejudices and biases become ingrained into their young, impressionable minds.
If we're honest with ourselves, we're all guilty to some extent of biases and prejudices toward others who are not like us, whether by sexual orientation, religious belief, gender or skin color, and must work to overcome these tendencies. I was raised by Irish Catholic parents who instilled in me and my sisters a deep, abiding belief in God and respect for all persons. I am eternally grateful to them and so many others in my formative years for showing me that all people are equal and entitled to the same rights and consideration, no matter what their demographic traits.
So many times in my life, I've been amazed and deeply disappointed at the shocking degree to which racism and hate persist in our society. I'd like to share three personal experiences from my younger years.
I remember when as a teenager I witnessed some kids my age (all white like myself) showing a young boy, about 3 or 4 years old, a baseball bat and giving the bat a name that included a racial slur. I was dismayed and incredulous to see this message of ignorance being so nonchalantly passed on to an innocent child.
Another incident happened when I was in my 20s and still very idealistic. Early on in my 32-year social services career, I gave a neighbor a few years younger than myself a ride to his friend's house. When he found out where I worked, he exclaimed "all those n-----'s!" First of all, a very large percentage of welfare recipients are not black. But mostly I was appalled that he presumed that I would share his racist contempt for persons of color.
The third story is from the same time period. A friend and I went to watch the Final Four games at the house of some guys he knew. During the games, these guys routinely insulted players with continued use of racial slurs. At some point, I'd had enough and asked them what exactly they had against black people?
Many years and experiences later, I've come to realize that while many people are loving and accepting of all, our society will endlessly face the challenges of dealing with those who willingly choose ignorance, hate and bigotry.
Michael Scully of Williamsville has a master's degree in social work and worked for 32 years in social services.