As a child, I didn't notice racial and ethnic differences, dialects, or skin colors. They didn't even enter my mind.
This easygoing approach stayed with me until I met my future husband, Tony. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York. There, your race was everything - your badge of honor. It defined who you were, how you acted, and precisely how you were to perceive others. Jewish, African-American, Puerto Rican, Italian, whatever, were encamped within "territories" of street blocks. You never crossed those borders. You stayed among your own.
This is how Tony lived his life. He knew no other way. And as he and I spent time together, I got a crash course in street smarts. Racial slurs and jokes began to pepper most of my conversations. I willingly learned about the "real world," with its hidden racial agendas, and I even felt proud of my new "maturity."
It took an unintentional but hurtful insult of a close friend to bring me around. She was several years older than I was, and was kind, gracious, and very funny. Our times together were always happy. But one night on our way out to dinner, I recounted an incident at work that had really gotten me mad, and I uttered a racial slur about "those people."
As the words left my mouth, my friend's face dropped to the floor - and I was mortified. Instantly I realized she was one of "those people." I had slandered her ancestry and cut one of my dearest friends to the heart.
Almost at once she forgave me, but I didn't quite so easily forgive myself. It was a hard lesson in how hurtful words can be. What I knew immediately was that never again did I want to make anyone feel like that. Also that the road out of prejudice was harder to travel than the road in to it - harder because it required me to understand and face the effects of my thinking.
Kind friends helped me along by encouraging me to find answers in the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." Those two books helped me understand the equality of everyone in God's eyes.
Often I thought of the way Mary Baker Eddy likened the relationship of God and His creation to drops of seawater and rays of sunlight: "As a drop of water is one with the ocean, a ray of light one with the sun, even so God and man, Father and son, are one in being" (Science and Health, page 361).
Regular reading of this passage helped me realize that God gives everyone the same "shine" of His essence - qualities such as beauty, intelligence, kindness, compassion. No single ray ever has more sun than another. And no human characteristics can ever block the natural flow of love from God to His sons and daughters.
From then on I worked at disciplining my thinking. When feelings of prejudice popped up, I'd turn on them. I'd fight with what I'd learned was the strongest weapon available - spiritual facts about others as God's children.
When I talked with someone, I'd quietly acknowledge to myself something special about that person - his or her smile, beauty, or perhaps the kind tone of voice.
This regular mental showdown - seeing the essence of God shine from the person - eventually brought the change in me that was needed. My easygoing childhood view of people returned. And Tony's attitude changed, too - he became far more comfortable about crossing the borders that had once ruled his life.
We still live in a very diverse neighborhood - and we love it. We see the differences in heritage as a priceless gift. They give our 8-year-old son, Enrico, a broad and realistic view of the world. When I take him to a park, he doesn't see them and us, he sees only friends. We moms look at one another and smile.
As Enrico's unprejudiced innocence finds expression, my hopes for the future leap. I find that more and more people are refusing to allow hatred to grow within themselves. Eventually we will all choose to know the world through a more spiritual and unified perspective.