Monday, April 1, 2013

Of Prejudice and Ignorance

Fact: Autism is the fastest growing disability in the United States

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'prejudice' as: dislike, hostility, or unjust behaviour deriving from preconceived and unfounded opinions.

There's a small town in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. The town was established in the 1920s, but there had been people living there long before, descendants of the Hohokam. The Hohokam had carved canals into the rock-hard caliche to divert the life-giving water of the Gila River, they grew cotton, they grew their own food, their civilisation flourished. However, the arrival of Manifest Destiny in the mid 19th century drove the indians onto reservations. Europeans settled in the area, fought off Apache raids and, diverted the Gila River and eventually dammed it. As a consequence, people starved, the Akimel O'odham--the People of the River, lost their lifeline, part of their cultural lifeblood. 

There are two communities. The town that was thrown up after the damming of the river, the one whose economy thrived on cotton and there's the reservation. There's only a mile or so of desert separating them, but the gap is so much bigger. The elementary schools still teach kids that Columbus discovered America, in spite of the fact that evidence of the original inhabitants' presence stands at the north end of town. People still think that tribe members do nothing more than sit in their free houses and collect their share of the revenue from the reservation's casinos. It's not just a local thing, though. That's the problem. In spite of cultural leaps forward like, the very corny, 'Dances with Wolves', reservations still exist. Prejudices still flourish. Injustices still happen. 

I find it sad that, in this day and age, some lessons are never learnt. That prejudices which grew partly out of ignorance and partly out of 19th century government policy, still remain. I know it's not something that's limited to one country, it's a worldwide thing. There are displaced people everywhere, separated from 'society' by ignorance and prejudice.  It's a fairly lofty wish, but it would be nice to think that one day, we can put aside one of the bad aspects of human nature, and sweep our prejudices aside. 

So, what experience do you have of prejudice as a result of cultural differences? Leave a comment below along with an email address and you could win a signed print copy of either 'Stolen Summer' or 'Lord of Endersley', both of which involve cultural misunderstandings and differences in one form of another. 

And don't forget to visit RJ Scott's blog to find links to all the other bloggers taking part in this month-long Autism Blog hop--a series of posts revolving around prejudice.