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Extreme Prejudice

During a recent conversation with several friends, we talked about the now three things you should never talk about if you don't want an argument. Religion, politics and now vaccinations. Though the topics are potentially polarizing, if you're willing to stay in the conversation, a lot can be learned on both sides. At the end of the day, there is only one way to have extreme prejudice about anything.

  • Never seek out knowledge or experience of anything outside of the world in which you want to remain certain is the only way it is.

It seems like a pretty simple formula doesn’t it? However, if you look closely at the things in which you have a prejudice towards, it is highly likely that you know very little if anything about it or the other side of the story. Christians disagree with Muslims and Muslims disagree with Christians. Republicans think Democrats are nuts and Democrats think Republicans are even worse. Americans think the world revolves around us and the rest of the world thinks Americans are a bit delusional. Some think mass vaccinations are the panacea to the COVID-19 pandemic while others think it's the greatest crime against humanity ever produced. Pick your poison…how much does each ‘really’ know about the other?

Though 25 years ago, in 1995 I vividly remember meeting a self professed and proud member of the white supremacy group Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and watching with amazement over the course of a week his entire paradigm being shifted. Why? Because for the first time in his life he was experiencing actually "being" around African-Americans in every capacity that he was otherwise "taught" was unacceptable.

My job at the time was to educate wrestling coaches nationwide how to become their absolute best. One of the programs I used was putting together a Coaches College in which the demonstrably best coaches in the world taught their specialized knowledge. Though I had spoken to him on the phone securing his enrollment, this KKK member came to this exclusive event not knowing that I was an African-American (this is before you could search anyone on the internet;-). I didn’t learn this until the second day of the five-day program because his roommate, who was a good friend of mine, pulled me aside and shared the following.

“Brett, did you know that Jim (not his real name) is in the Klan?” he said.

“No I didn’t, how do you know that?” I replied.

My friend then continued, “When I went into my room Jim looked despondent and I asked him what was wrong. He then proceeded to tell me that he was in the Klan and was really confused. When I asked Jim why he said, "because in the KKK we have three important tenants."

  1. Black people are to never be in positions of authority.

  2. Black’s are to never teach white people.

  3. You’re never supposed to intermix in an environment like this.

"My problem is, Brett is in charge of the whole thing and he’s Black…all of the instructors that we’ve learned from so far are Black…and I’ve been around all of these athletes that are Black, Hispanic, Russian, Korean, and they are the best wrestlers in the world. I’m blown away by what I’ve learned from them all already!? This is not what I was told.”

After learning about this I didn’t acknowledge that I knew about Jim’s membership in the Klan for the rest of the week. By the end of the week here’s what he said to me.

“Mr. Penager, I just want you to know that this has been the greatest week of my life. I learned more this week than anything that I’ve ever done before. If you ever make it back to Ohio (where I’m from and he lived), I’d love to have you come and teach my team and speak to the entire school.”

I thanked him for his offer and he then gave me a big, breathtaking bear hug. He kept in contact with me every year for over a decade afterwards. I haven’t spoken to him in years and don’t know if he’s still in the KKK or not, however this I know; once he was exposed to the culture and environment that otherwise he was secluded from and fed hate rhetoric, he found out the truth and it changed him forever.

I’ve traveled the world and here’s what I would encourage anyone to do. Get outside of your bubble in every arena and learn about a culture, religion, point of view, or group of people that you currently do not understand and have some biases towards. As my late great mentor, Van Carrigan said, “The opposite of success is positionality.” How about getting off yours by actually learning about that which you are currently prejudiced…I bet what you find will change you and your point of view forever.


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