Cultural assumptions are also dangerous. And our default assumptions about our fellow Americans are programmed into us from a very early age. Such programming is to a large extent simply and legitimately the "flavor" of our culture. But some of this programming is deliberate and engaged in by various interests who seek to mold the future of the nation. Much of this teaching, or programming, is done with the best of intentions (even when the teachers themselves know in their hearts that their methods are devious and aggressive). Some, of course, is simple done to gain unfair advantages.
For whatever reasons, we carry these assumptions around with us like a shadow. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I popped by my favorite local gun shop. I got talking to the owner about high risk kids and gun safety and learned that like myself, he's had foster kids. Not only has he taken in foster kids, but he had seven of them for a number of years, and all three of his own children were adopted (we also have a child adopted via foster care).
I was surprised.
Why was I surprised?
Because even after all of these years of trying to dig out of the crap that other people are programmed to dump on their images of me because I'm a gun owner, I still have these shadows of bias myself. A flicker of surprise crossed my mind to hear that this veteran law enforcement officer, gun shop owner and lifelong shooter had given so much of himself to so many emotionally and physically vulnerable kids.
And this shop's gunsmith? Also a good guy. He spends a lot of time on his boat, fishing and cruising the intracoastal waterway with his wife. I remember being a bit surprised to bump into him at a trendy little eatery in the downtown Wilmingtion historic district a couple of years ago. Nothing the man had ever done or said should have led me to picture him as the kind of guy who wouldn't frequent a place like that, with all its multicultural splendor and politically liberal vibe. I remember how at home he clearly was in that place when I saw him there.
Again. These assumptions we are programmed to make about each other are not to be underestimated. They can lie dormant in our hearts for all our lives -- just waiting to hurt someone. How many times do we hurt each other without knowing it? This is impossible to know and undoubtedly a part of our humanity that we will never be able to entirely shake. But we should be aware of it. Whether it's assuming that the kid with dreadlocks is casing the bank or that the guy with the Ducks Unlimited decal on his pickup truck wishes he had a few good slaves to help out around the farm, we should manage our tendency to imagine this kind of negative bullshit about each other. Otherwise, something of the power of our lives is lost to the bigotry of others.