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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Bad education

We aren’t born prejudiced in the womb but learn to treat strangers differently by example

We still played on the floor, my sister and I, so it must have been 1932 or 1933 when we heard she was coming. Millicent MacTeer, our great-grandmother. An often quoted legend, she was scheduled to visit all of the relatives’ houses in the neighbourhood. She lived in Michigan, a muchsought- after midwife. Her visit to Ohio had been long anticipated because she was regarded as the wise, unquestionable, majestic head of our family. The majesty was clear when something I had never witnessed before happened as she entered a room: without urging, all the males stood up.

Finally, after a round of visits with other relatives, she entered our living room, tall, straight-backed, leaning on a cane she obviously did not need, and greeted my mother. Then, staring at my sister and me, playing or simply sitting on the floor, she frowned, pointed her cane at us, and said, “These children have been tampered with.” My mother objected (strenuously), but the damage was done. My great-grandmother was tar black, and my mother knew precisely what she meant: we, her children, and therefore our immediate family, were sullied, not pure.

Learning so early (or being taught when one doesn’t know better) the ingredients of being lesser because Other didn’t impress me then, probably because I was preternaturally arrogant and overwhelmed with devotion to myself. “Tampered with” sounded exotic at first—like something desirable. When my mother defied her own grandmother, it became clear that “tampered with” meant lesser, if not completely Other.

Descriptions of cultural, racial, and physical differences that note “Otherness” but remain free of categories of worth or rank are difficult to come by. Many, if not most, textual/literary descriptions of race range from the sly, the nuanced, to the pseudo-scientifically “proven.” And all have justifications and claims of accuracy in order to sustain dominance. We are aware of strategies for survival in the natural world: distraction/sacrifice to protect the nest; pack hunting/chasing food on the hoof.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Emily Andrews, Andrew Brown and Tom Clark assess what the reign of King Charles might look like. Andrews profiles Charles and questions whether he will be able to keep his opinions to himself. Andrew Brown look at the coronation—the world is a very different place now from when the last one took place. Tom Clark explains the results of our poll, conducted by ICM, into people’s view on Charles taking the throne—it turns out fewer people than ever before want the heir to become our monarch. Elsewhere in the issue Nick Cohen details his battle with the bottle and shows that Britain has a problem with drink that it doesn’t want to talk about, and Toni Morrison Also in this issue: Toni Morrison on America’s stubborn race divide, Brian Klaas on how Europe should deal with Trump and Jessica Abrahams explains everything you need to know about fourth wave feminism