Prejudices can be dangerous

Published 12:03 am Sunday, July 23, 2017

Let’s face it; we all make judgments about people, almost constantly and often unconsciously.

As hard as we might try to avoid it, our prejudices often creep in.

Some of those prejudices probably stem from that weird internal gene we have that seems wired to protect us. That’s what allows us to sometimes sense fear.

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Clearly the built-in prejudice puts us on edge when confronted with a large, hulking person in a dark, lonely alley, and rightfully so.

Those judgments we cast daily are easy to spot and justified. The more subtle instances occur without our even noticing sometimes.

Ever see someone and think, “How can someone walk around so dirty?” or “Can you believe that person would dress like that?”

It’s the exact opposite of what God tells us to do.

Jesus said the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart and soul. But the second most important was to love your neighbor as yourself. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? In practice, it is extremely difficult.

I caught myself being prejudiced recently. I was standing near the front lobby of the newspaper office when an elderly lady walked in and sort of leaned against the front counter. The two people who brought her scurried out and said they would be back later to pick her up.

As I walked closer and the lady looked up, I recognized her. She was a lady I’d met many years before and who often wrote submissions for the newspaper.

After asking her how we could help, I quickly realized she did not know where else to turn.

She told me that her family had recently had her hospitalized for mental evaluation.

“But I’m not crazy,” she said. “And after four days the doctors said that too.”

Immediately, my prejudice kicked in and I thought, “This lady has mental problems and is simply unaware.”

But as she talked I kept hearing the voice in my head say, “But you’re supposed to love her.”

Then I realized, this could be my mother or my grandmother, having nowhere to turn.

How would I like someone to treat them, if the shoe was on the other foot?

Even if she turns out to have mental health issues, I thought, she’s still somebody’s momma and mommas deserve some patience.

So I listened and listened.

Eventually, I realized, this woman was far from mentally unstable.

Despite her age, she was very lucid and in spite of her situation — a family squabble had effectively left her homeless — was in relatively good spirits.

As we talked, the years of pain and suffering the woman had endured flowed out in a very matter-of-fact way. As she recounted a few bits of her life, she was comfortable in her own skin and in her faith in God.

If I recall her story correctly, the woman’s great-grandfather had been a slave on a Natchez plantation and though far better than that of her ancestors, her life had been far from rosy.

Eventually, a special victim’s advocate team officer with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office came and was able to help the woman get reconnected with a family member who could care for her.

Later that night Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten sent me a photo of the woman, walking home with her relative.

She left happy, he wrote.

I smiled at the thought of how her day had improved so dramatically.

All she needed was a few folks who could set aside any preconceived notions about who she appeared to be and listen to who she really was.

In the grand scheme of life, isn’t that all any of us needs?
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or