A Lesson About Prejudice

March 23, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Discrimination and prejudice exist in many forms and even the young are not immune, a college professor told eighth-graders at West Middle School in Westminster yesterday.

"It's all around us, and we need to become more aware of it," said Richard Bucher of Mount Airy, a sociology teacher at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC).

"Young people aren't as free of prejudice as we might want to believe," he said.

Dr. Bucher spoke to students in Patricia Gibson's world culture classes as part of Human Relations Week sponsored by the Carroll County Human Relations Commission. He is a past chairman of the commission and is director of the Institute for Intercultural Understanding at BCCC.

His topic was "Understanding and Respecting People Who Are Different." He related incidents in which he and his family have experienced prejudice.

"When you feel the hurt it might make you think twice about laughing at someone else," he said.

Dr. Bucher, who is white, said he grew up in Pleasantville, N.Y., an almost all-white town. He became part of a minority about 20 years ago when he began teaching at BCCC, where most of the students are African-American. When he played recreational basketball at the school, he was the last chosen when players picked teams because he was white, he said. He also was taunted by another player who repeatedly said, "White boy, white boy."

"I was 23 years old, and it was the first time I'd ever had my race held against me, and I didn't like it. But it was important for me to get a taste of it," Dr. Bucher said.

Eighth-grader Sara Sciarretta said prejudice and discrimination exist among people her age "because of the way people treat each other. They're disrespectful."

Most students were reluctant to talk. Dr. Bucher told them he understood, because it was a difficult subject. He asked them what kind of prejudice they see at school.

One girl said people made fun of a friend who dyed her hair green. A boy said some people make fun of students with disabilities.

Dr. Bucher said his 18-year-old autistic son, Jimmy, has experienced discrimination. People sometimes stare at him and call him names. "Words like 'retard' can hurt people," Dr. Bucher said.

Prejudice also comes through in jokes that make fun of Polish people or television shows that portray women in an unrealistic way, he said.

Mrs. Gibson said she talks about stereotypes, discrimination and prejudice in her world cultures class. She encourages students to look at African, Indian, Russian and Japanese cultures without preconceived notions.

"We try to make children aware that there are different cultures and to approach the differences in a more positive manner," she said.

Dr. Bucher encouraged the children to think for themselves. "A lot of you are good at that already, and I applaud you for that," he said.

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