One becomes a bigot, can we agree on that? I believe that the one thing that can save someone from becoming a bigot, is the “good enough education.”
I very well could have become a bigot. Perhaps all of us could have? I’m not sure. While I would like to think that I would have inevitably been a compassionate person, I know that things could have gone terribly wrong because the family I was born into was “headed” by a very prejudiced man, at a time when the man in the house was a king.
After my father’s initial influence, the larger community in which I was raised, could have taken over and reinforced the prejudice that I was exposed to. And then I could have sought out the kinds of experiences, information, people, and lifestyle to harden the prejudices into a pernicious world view.
Maybe I got “woke,” maybe I was smart, maybe I was stubborn, or maybe I just got lucky?
In any case, I was saved from a nasty fate. It seems like lately we have not been talking about what is necessary to prevent a person from becoming a bigot.
In the many, many recent discussions about increasing, overt acts of racism in this country and what underlies them, one thing I have not heard once, is the role of education in the raising of bigots. This fact confounds me,
because education is what saved me.
I’m defining education here in a broad sense, education that encompasses everything you hear said in the family when you’re five, to the TV shows you’re allowed to watch when you’re 14, to the trips you’ve taken by the time you’re 18.
A brilliant, English pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, came up with the concept of the “good-enough mother” in the mid-fifties. (If you haven’t heard of this, or his other work, it’s fascinating. If you have any interest in psychology at all, you should check it out.)
If there’s something like a good enough mother, then there is also the good enough education, education that exposes a human to many sources of information and then develops that human enough to turn off the human predilection to hate the “other.”
Just like the good enough mother doesn’t have to be perfect, the good enough education doesn’t have to be extensive or perfect.
If there were a few more books on the bookshelf, if there was just a bit more discussion at the dinner table, if there had been one good role model, and more years spent in a good school, one might actually have a good enough education and the self-awareness that inevitably follows. I did.
Most bigots who act on their bigotry are not “monsters” or “mental.” Whether we want to believe ir or not, they’re just people.
It isn’t about perfection. Being human is about having enough education, to have internalized the notion that you are no better than any other human being. What a nasty fate for those who don’t understand that.
“Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.”