If you ignore prejudice, you invite prejudice.
Stony Brook University officials recently hosted a forum in Port Jefferson to highlight how, despite efforts to stamp out prejudice in the local community, its specter constantly lingers in the background. The catalyst for the panel discussion was a recent incident, where a Sikh man was essentially barred from entering a restaurant because his religious garb was misunderstood.
Presenters praised the more than 40 people, mostly business owners, who attended the panel for being open-minded. Many walked away with new insights and goals in mind.
It makes little economic nor moral sense to restrict who can buy your products or shop because of a lingering prejudice, so we agree that all North Shore businesses should be looking for ways to become more inclusive.
Prejudice sits just under the skin of a community and surfaces regularly. Back in May, a gay couple were called “faggots” by a waiter as they left a restaurant in Smithtown. The restaurant wrote a long apology on its Facebook page, but not until after the news was carried far and wide. That incident not only looks bad on that one individual and the business where they are employed, but the stigma is transmitted to all surrounding businesses.
People can pretend that prejudice is contained as overt acts of aggression, yet the truth is less obvious. In reality, much of Long Island is dotted with areas of high wealth, situated alongside areas of upper and lower middle class. Consider Long Island school districts, which dictate their own boundaries. Segregation among school districts is such that the majority of Brentwood students, for example, are black and Hispanic, while a district like Three Village is comprised of more than 80 percent white students. To pretend that such overt segregation doesn’t lead to ignorance and prejudice is fooling oneself. The truth is that Long Island is regarded as one of the most segregated metropolitan regions in the country.
Restricting somebody from entering a restaurant is overt in its ignorance. It’s wrong for a whole host of reasons, and in the small relatively insular communities of the North Shore of Long Island, those ideas are hard to wrestle away.
But those ideas must be torn away, ripped up and be jammed deep to the bottom of the garbage bin.
Our local shops have a lot they can do to help. The Stony Brook University panel suggested businesses talk about hiring people to become more diverse. Simply putting a sign in a store window inviting people of all races, religions, creeds, sexual orientations and genders to shop can emphasize inclusivity.
Learn to recognize prejudice and then take a stand when you see it, especially if it’s within your own thoughts and actions. There are benefits to racial and cultural diversity. Let’s celebrate our differences.