Because they have experienced it first hand, the authors know clearly what the effects are: coercion under certain circumstances to relieve other people of the tensions that their own perceptions inflict on them, the breaking of spirit, the loss of identity, enforced beliefs, alienation, etc. But they do not make a case against prejudice by pointing these. They simply encourage the reader to try to understand prejudice by themselves, having witnessed other people's experiences. In Staples' case for example, his appearance and mere presence affect women because of their own perceptions. It is thus their doing and believing that generally affects them. But how they respond to Staples' presence subsequently has repercussions on the author's personal well being; which is to say that he has no power of control over his interactions with people because they are intent on stereotyping before anything else. The only control is to sooth his appearance in front of others and to avoid close up confrontations. Staples is thus coerced to adopt a behavior that felons would usually assume: cautiously moving about at night, waiting for lobbies to clear off before entering a building, etc. To other people's personal fears, he is compelled to respond to not so much to convince them of his integrity but as a coping mechanism that keeps him from dwelling into "madness." (2) It is a twofold situation thus that offers no relief either to the person prejudicing since it is the very act that leads to threatening assumptions or to the prejudiced who is compelled to deal with the situations.
If the reader takes in the experiences in the essays and reflects upon them, this should be enough to provide a vivid picture of prejudicial processes. Such as people know from others' experiences that rattlesnakes are poisonous and cause death and do not need to experience it first hand to convince themselves of the reality, prejudice, in a similar manner, can be experienced by what we know and understand of other people's stories. But there is really no definite answer as to whether or not one needs to experience prejudice first hand in order to understand what it is. This is just one of those more or less philosophical questions to which any given answer will be responded differently and perhaps, in opposition. What do remain however are the facts, the underlying facts at the basis of such stories like the four authors' above which are meant to serve as a lesson to whoever is willing to listen and understand.
Temporality is an essential dimension of any human being and every society. The historical past of a society implies certain collective biographies, cumulated as more or less similar experiences and shared visions attached to these experiences on premises of belonging to similar social groups. For example, members of a minority group can share a common biography due to the fact that most of the individuals within this particular community were subjected to identical disadvantages, having to confront thus similar inequalities. This is to say that prejudices can be caused by traumatic and conflictive historical situations, dominating situations, or whatever else negative experiences which, embroidered in the collective biographies of generations, result into relationships of rejection. Sociology now considers that the past, existing as an objective process, must not be confounded with how we remember this past, suggesting thus a concise line of demarcation between history and memory. When however the two are confounded and the past is merely a memorial reconstruction, the objective translucency of how the past happened and what exactly happened in the past is lost. Moreover, when a society enforces its past upon a different culture, forcing the latter to ignore and refute its own historical past, the conflict escalates. For example, Kincaid, despite having been infused and saturated with colonizers' majestic perceptions of England, does not resolve to merely assimilate things such as they are being poured into her mind. Despite her teacher wanting to enforce a personal and collective belief upon Kincaid, she refutes the reality that she is presented with. To Kincaid, a country "that was to be our source of myth and the source from which we got our sense of reality, our sense of what was meaningful, our sense of what was meaningless," (365) that particular country in fact makes no sense to her at all. Kincaid's understanding was that, the glorious, historical England, such as she read of it in books, did not match with the "other views, subtler ones, softer, almost not there" (367) but which she was able to perceive nonetheless. These allusive views were meant to erase her sense of identity but not as to merge with English historical values but merely to inoculate her with a sense of gratitude and servitude towards her colonizers. Kincaid thus points to the fact that, what we read in books sometimes is not the accurate representation of the past, the objective past like the one sociology thrives on, but a mere reconstruction of people's memory and how they want the past to be remembered. And these people then choose to enforce their past on another culture, another identity, deliberately looking to eradicate traditional values. Moreover, Kincaid's essay reveals that, while we may understand certain historical events, how these unfolded, what these resulted into, the reality usually transcends that reconstruction. The objective past will always assume collateral damages, but a past reconstructed by people's personal perception will fail to admit any harm inflicted upon another; and will surely be as bold as requesting its victims to accept humiliation and express gratitude. To abnegate an imposed state of being thus becomes the act of resolution for Kincaid to accept her identity, to embrace it and to be proud of it. Maya Angelou does the same thing in her story. She chooses the abnegation of the reality which the white society decided for the black people and challenges that reality: "what school official in the white-goddom of Little Rock had the right to decide that those two men [Jesse Owens and Joe Louise] must be our only heroes? […] which concrete angel glued to what country seat had decided that if my brother wanted to become a lawyer he had to first pay penance for his skin by picking cotton and hoeing corn […]?" (29) In this particular context, Angelou does not only vociferate at the present reality but draws upon the past and her ancestors who were first sold into slavery and then freed into a more democratic system of slavery within which black people were allowed to aspire insofar as those aspirations did not exceed the boundaries of the white community's plans for them. If Kincaid and Angelou are able to refute this imposed reality, then they would have both maintained their identity. And this identity would not make them feel any smaller because of the color of their skin but indeed provide them with a sense of belonging. The realization that they are "colored" does not inflict feelings of shame anymore but rather of self-discovery as though they had been living in a world that smothered identities but it is only by realizing this that they discovered the secret to holding on to their identify. And that was to reject the reality which other people had long decided for them. Zora Hurston takes a similar approach and, in certain circumstances, her skin is "so colored" that a white male's paleness fails to match what she can provide the world with: symbolic colorful arches of a rainbow that illuminates and comforts people's sight and their soul.
Perhaps the only way to rid ourselves of prejudice is to accept the hypothetical nature, the dubitative nature of thinking and the so called grounds for it. It is not man without prejudice but the opened mind which will continue to confer us grounds for thought. The capability to understand that people are different and to nevertheless accept that without inflicting any conscientious wounds upon them will make prejudice less bitter and the effects less pervading. Assumptions lead to a loss of interpretative landmarks and justify unreasonable any points.
Angelou, Maya. "Graduation." Web. 7 Nov. 2013.
Hurston, Zora. "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." Web. 7 Nov. 2013.