Silent Prejudices

Among my friends, Bob Carbone was the longest-lasting, and one from whose relationship I learned the most. His Italian family lived in a three-decker house on a street near to my home. Bob and I became friendly in grammar school and remained so through all the school days. It was only until our lives had parted, that reminiscence taught me something about the subtleties of prejudice.

I was frequently in Bob’s house, yelled for him every day on the way to school, through High School, ate meals with his family, learned to say a few Italian words which his immigrant grandmother could understand. I was fully accepted there. In a later adult day, I came to realize that I could hardly remember a time when Bob was ever in my home! I was astounded to admit that, and wondered, of course, why.

When I graduated from High School, my parents took me to Washington, D.C. as a celebration, and I was told that I could invite a friend to travel with us. Of course I chose Bob, and he did go with us. One day at breakfast in our Washington hotel, when Bob was away from the table, I was amazed to hear my mother share her surprise that he was so wonderfully courteous and well-behaved! Bob was probably not “at ease” with my parents, and clearly they were not “at ease” with him. Remembering this as an adult, the fact that Bob was seldom in our home made sense, or really, nonsense!

Today it seems strange that I never discussed this with Bob. It stands for me as an example of a “lost opportunity”, which might have had rich instruction for my learning, My bet is that Bob and his family were aware of, or at least assumed that my parents held unspoken prejudices against their immigrant status. Adult reflection later led me to see this as an instance of the subtlety of prejudice. Later I would see similar dynamics abundant in race relations.

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