I didn't think much about prejudice till I got to New York City and was trying to be a dancer. Junior Ann Henry, a black girl, and I became a dance duo. Duke Ellington liked us, so did Louis Jordan. You can read about the year I tried hard to be black in AIN'T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS (7/24/09)
I didn't want to dance like the white dancers I knew -- they didn't thrill me. But black dancer Talley Beatty did -- he had magic in his bones. So did Janet Collins, Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade. I wanted that magic in my own bones. It just wasn't there. I wondered if it was because I was white.
I had a head-on collision with another kind of prejudice when it came to gays -- the good-looking male dancers I hired for my Dance Drama Company. It bothered me that most of them imitated what I didn't like about women --. exaggerated helplessness, that sibilant tone of voice that was excessively female, and those broken wrists, their ridiculous concern with a perfect hairdo, perfect outfits.
It didn't occur to me that I was prejudiced, but when we had a flat tire, the men who could have, should have helped, sat cozily in the warm car, while we girls went out in the snow, and did the work.
Another slam-bam --I was told by a friend in a lesbian relationship, that whenever I talked or wrote about gay guys or gals, I expressed old-fashioned race-prejudiced ideas. It got me thinking about remarks I made about various well-known creators in show biz. "Oh he's gay!" I would murmur, letting "gay" explain why so-and-so was successful. Was it because birds of a feather flock together -- the gays hire gays? Was it jealousy? Was it because I'm not gay that top flight show-biz creators didn't hire me?
Apparently, what I heard and observed as I toured the country and performed in the south, a lot of prejudice stuff that's part of American culture -- is in me.
Black American Touré, (he uses one name only), essayist, music journalist, cultural critic, and television personality, author of four books, including "Who's Afraid of Post Blackness," which the New York Times called the "notable book for 2011," said, in an article in Time recently, "Inside the racist mind, bias is the complex neural play between emotions and beliefs. It's learned quickly, often after a single presentation, of an unconditioned stimulus in a fear learning paradigm."
Quoting surveys, psychologists, and research, Touré proves how prejudice is ingrained in us.
I wasn't surprised to learn that 15 percent of Americans believe that blacks pose a greater threat to public safety than any other groups, and realize that my prejudices about gays is built on words in the air, hand-me-down ideas of what's masculine, what's feminine.
Okay, Touré, you're right. I'm prejudiced. Prejudice is a pair of gloves in my drawer that's filled with gloves I've sort of collected over the years.
I don't wear them all the time, but I sometimes I put them on them without thinking -- it's the weather -- they look nice -- they sort of enhance the outfit I'm wearing. Without thinking, just reacting, when I see plays, like "Streetcar Named Desire," with blacks playing the leads, it seems wrong. In Shakespeare In the Park, when a black actress played the lead in "Measure for Measure," I was very aware, distracted by one black nun in a group of whites nuns.
I can't change. It's a conditioned reflex. I see a black person and it registers -- he's black, she's black. I hear someone's accent and I might think "Latino." Also, it registers if a person is fat -- I am prejudiced against fat people. I am prejudiced against women who wear too much perfume. Hey, I am even prejudiced against old people inching along, crowding the sidewalk when I'm in a hurry, or homeless people sleeping on my street.
I don't know how to eliminate prejudice.
But I can try to throw out the gloves.