It’s difficult to discuss prejudice without clarifying what it is. The fourth edition of the American Heritage College Dictionary provides four meanings for the term—from “an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts” to “irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race or religion.” Both definitions apply to the experiences of ethnic minorities in Western society. Of course, the second definition sounds much more menacing than the first, but prejudice in either capacity has the potential to cause a great deal of damage.
Likely because of my skin color, in the early years after coming to America and still today, when I would tell others that I was born in a foreign country, they would automatically say “oh but you speak English so well”, in particular if I mask my accent. They would also ask, “well are you black because you look different?”. If I do use my accent and tell others I am from Guyana, South America, invariably they would respond: “oh, are you Jamaican?”, or the best one: “what part of Africa is that?” ( as if Africa is a country). Why? Well because the people doing the asking have preconceived notions of what a black person born outside of America should sound like, meaning that they do they do not speak English very well. They have a hard time geographically making sense that blacks with accents do all originate from Africa or Jamaica. What is more, they have a hard time understanding that not all blacks in America or other parts of the world fit the stereotypical depictions of full lips, coarse hair, ample backsides etc.
Since taking this class and reading the article on implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interactions, I have come to understand that (Dovidio et al. 2002). As Dovidio explained, “ people do not have to be aware those operations of attitudes for attitudes to be influential…” What I mean to say is that in the early days of those questions, I worked really hard on eliminating my accent. I tried not to gain weight and I especially treated my hair chemically and/or wore every extension known to man. I did all these things because I was influenced by the acceptance and that somehow I was special and they were not even aware of the influence on my life. What I did not understand then but am grateful that I fully comprehend today is this: Most of the people who have asked me these questions over the years were not malicious. They’re operating under the (erroneous) assumption of looks, dialect, physical attributes of Africans who are born or live outside of America. They also erroneously assume that all black born in America are English speaking and have the stereotypical features. Still, they allow prejudice to guide them.
While I have since learned to embrace my identity as a black woman, from a foreign land with an accent and unique attributes/qualities others deeply resent being told that their ancestral or national origins make them less African than others. Prejudice of this nature may not only lead to psychological trauma but also to racial discrimination.
Today when someone asks me how it is I speak English so well and I was born in another country. I advise him or her that I should because it is the only language spoken in my country and that I had to learn a foreign language in America because most Americans do not speak English at all.