Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 15, 1872 when the first baptism was recorded at St. Peter's Church, New Britain. The child's name was, Joseph Graff.
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My friend walked into the local hardware store, proudly cradling his newly adopted infant son. The baby’s ebony face peered up with a wide grin at his father’s white face. Just then another customer walked by and grunted, “Where did you find him – in the jungle?”


There’s a name for that attitude. It’s called prejudice.


Prejudice is an opinion that’s formed before the facts are known; or a preconceived, unreasonable judgment marked by suspicion, fear, intolerance or hatred.


And there’s a lot of it in our world.


The apostle Paul had something to say about prejudice. He wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “In Christ, you are ALL sons of God, through faith . . . There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


These were shocking words when Paul wrote them to combat the rampant bigotry in his world. Unfortunately, prejudice continues to exist today.


And willful prejudice is sin, which grieves the heart of God.


Racial bigotry is the most obvious form of prejudice in America. The interesting thing is that most of us think we’re not prejudiced. And yet, I wonder, how would you react if your blond granddaughter began dating a black man? Or if a Puerto Rican family bought the house next door? What if a white child was born into your largely black family? What if your new cubicle mate was Iraqi?


These questions stretch the limits of our tolerance.


Often, our prejudice begins with assumptions that we don’t even realize we have. For example, when a white friend of mine adopted a biracial child, she noticed that people always assumed that the birth mother – a black woman – was uneducated and on welfare.


“Reg,” my friend lamented, “no one ever assumes that she was a college student.”


Why? Prejudice: a preconceived, unreasonable judgment marked by suspicion, fear, intolerance or hatred.


Sadly, churches are susceptible to bigotry as well. Dr. Martin Luther King used to say that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. And at the heart of segregation is bigotry.


Many white Americans think such bigotry disappeared with the passage of civil rights legislation, but it did not. Changes to the law must be accompanied by changes in people’s hearts. Ask any black or Hispanic man, and he’s likely to tell of being questioned by police for driving through a white neighborhood or driving a nice car. It’s called DWB – Driving While Black. One black college student borrowed his father’s luxury sedan for the day, and even though he drove within the law, he was stopped FOUR times in seven hours. Why? DWB. He was a young black man in a nice car in white neighborhoods.


That’s prejudice. If you still don’t believe me, watch what happens in a convenience store when a man of color walks in. Women clutch their purses. Parents pull their children closer. Cashiers grow nervous.


And forget about getting a cab if you’re an African American man. A Hollywood actor recently remarked, “[As a black man], I’ve got a better chance of winning the Heisman Trophy than going out and hailing a cab.”


A close cousin to prejudice is snobbery - attaching great importance to wealth, social position, etc., and having contempt for those one considers to be inferior. In an elementary school in my town, for example, it is customary for people to greet everyone as they stroll down the corridors. And yet most parents walk right past the custodian as if he isn’t even there. Why? Custodians are considered inferior, even though we are all equal in the sight of God. It’s snobbery, and it’s wrong.


We once knew a gentleman who retired after a teaching career that spanned four decades. He wanted to work part-time in his retirement so he took a job at the Can & Bottle redemption center of a local Stop & Shop. He loved it. His wife used to joke that all the elderly women in town brought in a single soda can each day just to say hello to him. Harried young moms handed over their squirmy toddlers to “Mister Mike,” whose gentle way delighted all.


But his family was mortified. They felt it was beneath his dignity for a man with a Master’s degree to be working a menial job. He replied that no job is beneath one’s dignity as long as it’s honest work.


What was going on? Snobbery. Like prejudice, it leads us to make judgments about people based on external factors rather than based on truth. In sharp contrast, the Apostle Paul states that, in Christ, there are no separations based on race, gender, or social status.


In God’s eyes, we are all equal, and He loves us without distinction. Who are we to do anything less?


Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.