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The Politics of Prejudice

You’re black, you must be voting for Obama.

“You’re a woman, you must be voting for Hillary.”

“You’re a Christian, you must be voting for Huckabee.”

“You’re a naval officer, you must be voting for McCain.”

Why do we let political candidates and pundits pigeon-hole us?

Why do we let our color, gender, faith and profession define who we are?

The only difference between this country that we misleadingly call the great American melting pot, and the troubled region of the middle east, is that we separate ourselves behind fences that are invisible.

This presidential race has brought to the forefront issues that have been bubbling and building within our nation since its conception. At times the flames have sparked and ignited into periods of activism and anger, only to be temporarily placated and cooled back down. But the fire has yet to be extinguished, and now we find ourselves engrossed and inflamed in a battle for the White House that has become more about who we are than what we stand for.

I remember distinctly the people different from myself that I met and called my friends in college. One was Mormon, one was Muslim, one was Catholic, and then there was me, a middle-class, middle of the road Methodist . All of us were young girls away from home for the first time, on a quest to find ourselves. We lived together in the last two dorm rooms at the end of the hall, and as is human nature, closeness bred familiarity. We studied together, ate together, partied together, and we even talked about our families and upbringings together.

I don’t remember ever wondering if my Muslim friend was a terrorist. She was a shy, quiet young girl with the face of a model. If it bothered her being the only black in our group, she never showed it. To protect her feelings, none of us ever told her when, after days of her praying every hour to the different directions, her otherwise patient and kind roommate came bursting into our room exclaiming “Ugh, I’m so sick of her praying all the time!” We all just laughed and brushed it off, knowing her roommate was not sincere, and during her fast, we all waited to eat until after sundown, so that she wouldn’t have to sit alone in the cafeteria.

I don’t remember ever thinking that my Mormon friend was part of some depraved, misogynistic faith. I remember being more surprised that she had lived an entire life caffeine-free than I was over any precepts of her religion. She tried to explain it to me one time, something about natural foods, and simple sugars versus compound sugars, but it all sounded a bit too much like chemistry to me. I do know that Ramen Noodles were not part of her Mormon-approved diet.

I don’t remember ever thinking my Catholic friend was one of those people who did whatever she wanted during the week and then wiped the slate clean at confession. I do remember her panicking when she misplaced her Rosary, and all of us pitching in to help her find it. I also remember all of us giving up something for Lent, though some were more successful than others. Personally, I think God understood that it was impossible for me, a renowned chocoholic, to give up chocolate for six weeks, when the restaurant directly across the street from campus made the best home-made chocolate cream pies in the nation.

I also remember that all of us debated and discussed our personal beliefs, and together experimented with other faiths. We attended Lutheran, Episcopal and Baptist church services, and went to meals hosted by the non-denominational student group. We discussed great political figures and why we thought JFK was a hero. We unanimously agreed that the Holocaust was the most horrifying testament to evil in our century. Even though we came from different socio-economic backgrounds, we all worried about how much money we would earn once we had our degrees in hand, and how long it would take to pay back our student loans. Our dreams were varied, and yet much the same.

Nearly fifteen years later I am not still in contact with any of my college girlfriends. I don’t know where they live, what they’re doing, or if they fulfilled their dreams. I wonder though, if we all were to meet again in some chance encounter, if we could all still so cordially and openly discuss our differences, or if we would end up in a fierce political debate.

I am a lower middle class single white woman and I am voting for Hillary. Is my opinion based upon fact, or because I fit her demographic? Is my black, Muslim friend an Obama girl? Is my Mormon friend now undecided because Romney suspended his campaign? I would like to think none of us would be so shallow, but my suspicion is that we are.

About Jeffery Swanson