How One Woman Walked Past a Series of Prejudices & Astounded the World
Prejudice is defined as the holding of a belief without reason or true experience. In times where our world is causing us to look at a variety of prejudices….it is timely to look at, feel and speak to where our own personal prejudices are limiting us.
I challenge you to ask the question: What are the beliefs you personally hold without reason or true experience?
Your limited beliefs may have to do with your ethnicity, your religious background, the education you had or did not have, the side of the tracks you grew up on, or how much money or not you have in the bank.
Interestingly, each prejudice has the effect of shaping and limiting what is possible for you in any life circumstance.
Sybil Jordan, an amazing African American woman from Little Rock, AR spent the first 30 years of her life defying prejudices as one of the first black students in Little Rock High School. She built a legacy far beyond what many thought was possible.
Her prayer “I lift mine eyes unto the hills from which my help comes,” (Psalm 121) allowed her to withstand the years of being ignored, spat on, and sidelined. In Sybil’s words: “I learned to live a longer game.”
For many it is easy to hoodwink yourself into accepting the limitations of what your prejudice is suggesting is true. Sybil never did that. She succeeded past all surrounding prejudice living her longer game.
In my experience, unexamined prejudices limit the ability to see ourselves and other people as they are and what is actually true in a situation, and to clearly examine possibilities for the future. If you abide by the limits of your prejudice it has the potential to steal your success and your dreams.
How Prejudice Plays with Success
Prejudice Alters Your Ability to See Who a Person Is and What is True
Three people witnessing the same event will tell you a different story of what they witnessed, depending on their personal prejudices. Your personal prejudices create a filter for how to act, what to say, and how to make decisions. The more intelligent people are, often the more stuck they are inside their prejudices.
Sadly, people often make significant life decisions based on these prejudices without any awareness of how they are being influenced and what they aren’t seeing because of those prejudices.
Sybil Jordan marched to a different drummer. She walked into Little Rock High School 55 years ago as the sole black person in the 10th grade and was not allowed to participate in any sport or join any organization. She learned not to drink very much in case she couldn’t find a colored restroom to relieve herself. Her parents told her: “When you leave this house each day, you may not encounter anyone who loves you. Yet you carry the love we have for you in your heart always.”
When she was ignored and sidelined her parents said to her: ” Don’t say they don’t like you. They don’t know you. If they really had the opportunity to know you, they would love you.”
The prejudices around her created an atmosphere where people could not see her intelligence, her humanity, or her possibility. So much so that, unlike any white children, Sybil was required to take psychological and intelligence tests in order to even be admitted to Little Rock High School.
Prejudice Alters the Ability to Clearly See the Possible Future
If you believe that there are clearly defined limits based on your bank account, your education, your race, your gender, and the belief of others around you, then your prejudice becomes a forecaster for your future.
You can only do and reach toward what your prejudice dictates is possible.
- Have you told yourself that because you have only limited funds that you have limited possibilities.?
- Have you decided that because you grew up in a particular area that you will never acquire more or expand more than people around you?
- Does your prejudice tell you that your social caste defines who you can love?
- Have you decided that because you are over 50 that you can’t pursue another passion?
These are all forms of prejudice. These beliefs held without reason are powerful saboteurs if you live within the confines of what the prejudice defines as possible.
As Sybil walked across the stage to graduate she remembers a wolf whistle: “There goes Black Beauty.” She was elated to be accepted at Earlham College, Indiana, where students met her at the car and said: “Welcome to Earlham, Sybil Jordan.” She went on to get her bachelors, her masters, and then her doctorate from Columbia University. So many people had questioned whether Sybil and other black students would bring down the quality of Little Rock Central. Her resume was her answer.
Moving Beyond Limits – The Mindset for Living Your Success
One of the hardest things for any of us to accept is delayed gratification. Like Sybil’s experience at Little Rock High, the short-term appearances were difficult and sometimes devastating. The only hope was down the road.
When asked how she dealt with this she shared a story:
“When I grew up all we could afford was margarine…not butter. I hated margarine.”
Every time she saw it on the table, instead of pouting, she turned her mind to the longer game, thinking: “When I grow up I will eat butter.” Today Sybil buys butter 6 lbs at a time. She will never run out.
As Sybil Jordan arose in her career she decided to return to Little Rock, a city she had left with no plans of returning. She was offered the job of President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The girl who grew up with little but the abiding faith and love of her family became an icon of respect in Little Rock, Arkansas. At her 20th Reunion for Little Rock High School she was greeted with a standing ovation. People crossed the aisles and hugged her.
Now when she walks through the door of the historic Capitol Hotel the white doorman knows her by name. She has dined at the governor’s mansion and belongs to the local country club. Tom McRae, the Rockefeller Foundations first president, told her she would get the ultimate sign of respect from Little Rock insiders. They would treat her like a white man! Although startled by this reference, Sybil understood. Respect had been a long time coming and she now had earned it with her steadfast position.
Sybil stated: “It is very difficult for people to take ownership of choices.”
A prejudice is a choice. It is a choice that will define and limit you if you let it. You can also choose to live the long-term victory choice.
Today examine the prejudices that have limited your success and movement forward. These beliefs have limited you up to this point to see who you and others are and to clearly see a positive future. Make a choice to step outside of your prejudices and take ownership of the gift you bring the world!
Inspiration and credit due to Southwest Magazine, Sept 2017 article, “ The Place Where Sybil Stood Up”