I was born in Brooklyn, and so were my parents. They still live there, in fact, each for almost 90 years. And although much of the borough has changed since I moved away over thirty years ago, for the lives of some lifelong Brooklynites, not much has.
Just cast your line along the Sheepshead Bay waterfront, only a 35-minute drive from the borough's vibrant hipster hub (aka Williamsburg), and you will find many residents who never lived beyond the borough's 71 square-mile border. 'Where would we go?' 'What would we do?' 'Who would we know?', my parents would rhetorically ask each other, unable to arrive at an answer suitable enough to risk moving across the river to one of the most populated and culturally diverse boroughs in the world, Manhattan.
I was therefore not at all surprised when my parents told me they were voting for Donald Trump. My mother's assertion that Trump 'Tells it like it is,' (aka 'He's not politically-correct') reflects a narrow mind-set devoid of diverse knowledge and experience. 'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,' Mark Twain once wrote. "Things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.'
It was, in fact, my parents' mounting levels of 'prejudice, bigotry and narrowmindedness,' that overshadowed my childhood. Growing up in the Brooklyn housing projects in the 1960s, I was repeatedly taught to not trust 'the blacks,' as my father called them. We had many black neighbors, even a few black friends, 'But they are the good ones,' my father said, that is, until the slightest incident caused him to think otherwise. When one black friend accidentally tore off my necklace during a friendly game of street tag, for example, my father not only referred to her, but her entire race, as 'Animals'. And when my brother wanted to become a teacher in the New York City public school system, my father warned him about the dangers of 'teaching the blacks.' "They're much too dangerous," he cautioned.
But, as is generally the case with bigotry, their discrimination did not limit itself to race. Females also fell victim, including me. As their only daughter, they had tremendous hope for me to 'marry well', as long as I 'knew my place.' I was named Lori, in fact, for the actress who starred in the 1950s television series, 'How to Marry A Millionaire,' This name would provide me the luck I needed to marry a 'rich man', my mother would say enthusiastically, as long as I 'always looked pretty,' but wasn't too intelligent or successful. 'Don't do anything to make the men in your life look bad," she repeatedly cautioned.
Still, limiting one's geography does not, in of itself, hold sole responsibility for developing racial and gender bias. According to a recent study, lacking education inhibits people's ability to embrace and accept differences in others, hampering opportunities to bring society together. Conversely, possessing the truth can defend against the prejudices, stereotypes, and discriminations that plague today's society. Essentially, education can be damaging to ignorance.
Many people, however, tend to be afraid of what they don't know, and it has been found that those who are more sensitive and easily-startled tend to have more right-wing views. Therefore, political rhetoric that provokes fear - emphasizing the risks of crime, terrorism, and economic instability, which is becoming an increasing part of Donald Trump's political platform- can have subtle but powerful effects on some groups of people when it is used to try and sway votes. Further, this same study found that fear can lead to disgust, which can lead to political conservatism. "We have good data...that there is a consistent relationship between the two...in basically every world region except sub-Saharan Africa," one researcher noted.
And, yes, my parents are disgusted. They are disgusted by what they see as racial divides narrowing instead of expanding. They are disgusted by women who no longer 'know their place,' confirmed by the audacity of one woman who thinks she can even become President. And they are disgusted by the very idea that they can become victims of terrorism, even though they haven't traveled outside their borough for decades.
But what if my parents, by some sudden stroke of luck, actually became somewhat more knowledgeable, educated, and well-traveled? Perhaps then they would understand what one of the most brilliant minds of our time, Steven Hawking, meant when he said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." Well, one can only hope.
Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist who loves living in Manhattan, and is writing her memoir.