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Another Voice: Family encounters shatter stereotypes about ‘the other’

By Robert Poczik

Our younger son is married to an African-American woman and they have two biracial sons, our two youngest grandsons. We recently visited them in Albany.

On one of the nights we were there, many family members, relatives of our daughter-in-law, gathered for a Jamaican fish stew with all of the trimmings. It was a fun, comfortable, boisterous evening.

There were four strong African-American men there, along with two babies – one of them our grandson Paxton. I couldn’t help but notice how tender and playful the four men were with the two babies, playing patty-cake and peekaboo. The young ones laughed and were delighted, and it gave the two young mothers a break.

As I observed the men being gentle and loving with the babies, it made me wish that anyone who harbors prejudices toward black men could be there to see how loving and vulnerable they were in a comfortable family setting. I think that tends to be true whenever people are relaxed and spending time with loved ones; they are their natural and best selves.

For some years I worked for a research company in New York City where most of the other managers were Jewish. I was invited to a number of Jewish family events, including a wedding, a bar mitzvah, and even a bris, a ritual circumcision ceremony attended by family and friends. All of those events evidenced strong family values, and I often wished that anyone who believes anti-Semitic stereotypes could see those values in action.

When I was in my 20s, I had the experience of living in predominantly Hindu and Buddhist settings, and found in them so much commonality of interests and values with my own American culture.

I have never lived in a predominantly Muslim setting, but suspect that I would find the same true there.

I am sure this is true of other groups with whom I have not had direct experience. I recently read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, which helped me to have some sense of how hillbilly families in rural areas stick together and defend one another.

It makes me think that viewing people in families might help us to better understand and value those who are different from us. The respected Pew Research Center recently conducted polling to learn where Americans find meaning in life.

They discovered that, across economic, religious and political divides, people consistently find value and meaning in their families.

Since family is something we have in common with others, perhaps that is a pathway to understanding and valuing those who are different from us.

Robert Poczik is a retired educator and world traveler who is active in his community.

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