About Gail
About the Book
Media Room

Press Kit:

One Sheet >>
Photo >>

To download Photo:
1.Click on the photo link above. A new window with the image or document will show up.
2. Windows users, right-click image. Mac users, click-and-hold image.
3. Choose 'Save Picture As.'
4.Choose a location to save the image; then click 'Save.'


GailForce: Prejudice — No Stinkin' Thinkin' in My House
By Gail Harris
Durango Guardian

I was pondering the recent incident involving a black Fort Lewis College professor who got his office door torched by unknown person or persons. According to press reports this was only the most recent incident. Apparently he had been targeted previously, including an incident of someone putting a swastika in his mailbox.

I don't know, because I haven't talked to the individual involved. However, I strongly suspect when he reported the other incidents and brought up the possibility of the incident being racially motivated no one wanted to talk about the possibility of race being the catalyst behind the incidents. How do I know? Because without exception, that's been my experience as well as the experience of every black person I know.

I have tons of great, fabulous, white friends. We talk easily about every topic under the sun but if the subject of race comes up they get uncomfortable, tell me racism doesn't exist anymore and that I'm imagining things or being overly sensitive. They ask me to change the subject and say they're sick of hearing black people whine.

I fail to understand why people get uncomfortable when discussing race. Racism is just one subset of the real issue — prejudice. I think we need to put the issues of prejudice into a broader perspective. The best example I can think of was last year's controversy when Donavan McNabb said he believed he was scrutinized more because he's an African American quarterback. Of course, he is scrutinized more by some who still have "race issues", but thankfully, less and less as it becomes more common to see African Americans at that position.

The worse form of prejudice I've personally experienced was over my weight so I'm particularly sensitive to the issue. When I look at Donavan, I notice not his race but his weight. He seems awfully fat for a quarterback, but, as a fattie myself, I'm rooting for him to succeed. "Hey Donavon maybe you'd better lay off some of that soup stuff, but hey I'm rooting for you, man. Show 'em what a fat guy can do."

One of the core life lessons for me was learned shortly after I entered the work force after graduating from college. I called up my Father whining that I was being dumped on in my job because I was a woman. Daddy replied: "Every human being is prejudiced against some thing or group. Everyone is the victim of some kind of prejudice. If you think this problem is unique to your sex, forget it. As long as you aspire to excel in any job, you're going to run into obstacles. If someone dumps on you because you're a woman, it's their problem. You just make sure it doesn't become yours. Professional competence levels the playing field." Over the years, I've learned through personal experience and observation that he was right.

If you doubt my primary thesis, I'm going to say something right now that will raise the blood pressure of some. I am a life long fan of the Dallas Cowboys!!! See. . . told ya! I don't like that expression "race card", because it implies that race prejudice no longer exists. Of course it does, we're human. We're not perfect. I think we get wrapped around the axle believing that prejudice is male vs. female or ethnic minorities vs. whites. I've spoken before many groups over the years. Without exception whenever I've asked people to raise their hands if they've ever been dumped on because they were too fat, too skinny, too bald, too pretty, too ugly, too smart, too stupid, a blond, a brunette, born in New Jersey, etc., everyone raises their hand.

I've learned that my only responsibility as a human being is to identify those areas that I have prejudices and make sure they remain my problem and not foist my issues off on others. I've worked as a manager and realized it would be wrong to only promote workers who are Dallas Cowboy fans. I did, however, strongly encourage my folks who were Washington Redskins fan to avoid me on those rare Monday mornings after their team beat mine.

I've also learned that I have prejudices I wasn't even aware of. I spend a lot of time in airports. One day as I was waiting to board a plane, I noticed a 20-something young man. His hair was multi-colored. He was wearing flip flops and pants that were several sizes too big and were hanging down low on his thighs. He had metal pins going through his lips and ears. I hoped I didn't have to sit next to him on a plane.

As I was boarding the plane, I noticed a mother leave her little girl in line alone and run off. I assumed she had left something behind and went to retrieve it. As people continued boarding I noticed the mother hadn't returned and the little girl was crying. I wondered if I should go over to help but was afraid some would think I was a kidnapping pervert. I looked around and noticed other passengers were hesitant to act as well. While I continued deciding what to do, I noticed the young man I'd been looking down on went over to her. He stooped down, took her hand and in a quiet voice began to comfort her. "Honey, it's going to be alright. See that nice flight attendant over there? Let's go talk to her. She will help you." The girl wiped her tears and tentatively took his hand. At that moment her mom returned. She thanked the young man as she and her daughter boarded the plane. I felt one inch tall. I could do nothing about my earlier reaction but vowed to be vigilant and try to remember to judge people not by appearance but by the content of their character.

Racism, along with other types of prejudices, still exists. Ignoring it will not make it go away. I am not vain enough to try to tell anyone else what to do. I can only speak for myself. All I can say is when I feel one of the prejudice "isms" rear their ugly heads in my mind, I stop those thoughts and tell myself I'm the victim of stinkin' thinkin'. As for me and my house, prejudice is not welcome. Not in my America, not in my home, not within my life!

In 1973, Gail Harris became the first woman in Naval History to serve as an Intelligence Officer in a Navy aviation squadron, and at her retirement in December 2001, she was the highest ranking African American female in the Navy. Her career included hands-on leadership during every major conflict from the Cold War, to El Salvador, to Desert Storm, to Kosovo and at the forefront of one of the Department of Defense's newest challenges, Cyber Warfare. Since retiring, Gail has worked in the defense industry as an intelligence subject matter expert. In October 2006, she had an essay "Reflections of a Retired Black Woman" published in Lies and Limericks Inspirations from Ireland. A frequent guest on radio shows as a defense expert, Gail also hosts a weekly R&B show and is currently putting the finishing touches on her memoir "A Woman's War".

Copyright © 2008 Durango Guardian The Eyes, Ears, Voice of the People. All rights reserved.
An Electronic Newspaper Serving Bayfield, Durango, Ignacio & La Plata County, Colorado

Copyright© 2009       Gail Harris       Email: info@gailharrisspeaker.com
Webdesign by PlanetLink