I was going to title this piece, "I Am A Bigot," but I looked up "bigot" and I do not believe I am a bigot. I do not hate people who I do not know simply for who they are.
Yet, I am prejudiced. I grew up in a time and place where I formed ideas about people I don't know. When I see strangers, I have knee-jerk reactions. When someone looks like a "homeless person," I assume he or she is poor, living on the street, and perhaps suffering from a mental condition. When I hear of rich people who have inherited wealth, I assume they have feelings of entitlement. When I hear that someone does not have a high school education, I assume that he or she is less intelligent. When someone tries to convert me to a different religion, I assume he or she is narrow-minded. I have even more repulsive prejudices than I am willing to admit in print because I feel bad about my biases.
As bad as I feel about my prejudices, I have not been able to eliminate them. I am embarrassed, but I cannot control my knee-jerk reactions. The best I can do is recognize my biases, admit to them, and understand that I cannot let the prejudices, my bigotry, control me. My grandmother was a refugee from Nazi Germany. When she saw a non-Jewish German, she would whisper, "I bet he has a Nazi in the family." That prejudice has stuck with me. I know that Germans and Germany cannot be considered with a broad brush, that anti-Semitism is repugnant in Germany today, but I cannot stop my knee jerk reaction. I can fight against my pre-conceived notions, but I am incapable of eliminating the original feelings.