A few days ago, I took my mother to a medical appointment. My mother is now elderly, and recently she injured her foot. As it happened, our usual entrance to the building was blocked by construction, and the other way around to her doctor’s office is quite a journey. Fortunately, the medical center had wheelchairs available.
So I took the wheelchair around to the car, and my mother sat in it. As I was wheeling her toward the building, a taxi driver, parked out front, asked me with alarm, “Is she all right?” Now there was nothing to indicate an emergency, so I muttered something at the driver and kept moving.
But that wasn’t the end of it. We went into the doctor’s office, and the receptionist asked, of course, for the co-pay. As my mother said she needed a receipt, the woman at the desk asked her, “Are you in a home?”
Certainly nothing would have indicated my mother was in a home. She had offered no change of address. But facing an older person in a wheelchair, the receptionist jumped at a stereotype.
As a mature person, my mother must constantly deal with age discrimination, one form of prejudice. We don’t think much about prejudice, unless we’re the victims of it. We certainly don’t talk about it much. The only prejudice I’ve faced is anti-Italian sentiment, and people are usually quiet about it because they fear our tempers.
But discrimination is alive and well. The old forms of it are still with us. About a year ago, a black woman attended a meeting. When another woman there, who was white, could not find one of her belongings, she made phone calls later asking if anyone had been watching the black woman. The white woman later found her belonging, but she had shown her true colors in the interim.
New forms of prejudice arise alongside the old ones. People who have, themselves, been discriminated against discriminate against others. Women have long been discriminated against in both the workplace and general society. Boys are now discriminated against in schools through the attention deficit disorder medications. And in certain academic circles, white men are regarded as having nothing valid to say.
We refuse to give up our stereotypes. What is clear is that a person facing prejudice must constantly deal with it. And dealing with that prejudice and the accompanying stupidity is a bigger ordeal than facing any condition that may naturally set a person apart from others.