To be honest, I have been quite surprised by comments that show up on various threads concerning a variety of prejudicial statements. They range from gender prejudices, to cultural prejudices, religious prejudices, and, of course, racial prejudices. What is disturbing is not necessarily the person/s making the statement/s, but the implicit support received from other comments.
You can always count on certain individuals, usually under some nom de plume, to be the source of such derision. I often wonder if they used their real names, if they would be so willing to make such outlandish statements.
It appears that as we get closer to elections, the prejudicial statements increase in frequency and intensity. With Barrack Obama’s election in 2008, I sincerely hoped that we had passed a major milestone in accepting a person of color to the highest office in the land and racial prejudice was now behind us. But, from the many racially motivated comments; it seems that we have yet to pass that milestone.
Congressional Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s run for the vacated U.S. Senate seat is also marred with prejudicial statements about her well-known sexual orientation. Often times I can’t tell which prejudice is more intense, her sexual orientation or the fact that she is a woman running for a traditional male seat. As far as I know, Wisconsin has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or the Governor’s office in its entire history.
I have also seen a number of prejudicial comments made about Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation with the LDS Church. This is unfortunate and indicates a severe intolerance of religious diversity. For some, his religious beliefs are prima facie evidence of his unsuitability to serve as president; it is equal to, if he might have come out and admitted to being an atheist.
Prejudices and bias plays such a role in our society’s structure and values orientation that it’s hard to dismiss as inconsequential; especially at a time when we are looking at electing representation and leadership. How do people come to such prejudices in the first place?
Sociologists have identified three primary means for acquiring prejudices. The first is attributed to “nature” and is something that humans are born with; the fear of strangers or the unfamiliar. The second source of prejudice is an element of nurture, which is learned prejudice. The final source of acquisition of prejudice is through experiential personal events.
The fear of the unfamiliar, including strangers, can easily be identified as something that is genetically hardwired into the species as a survival mechanism. The unfamiliar and strangers represent a danger to the primitive mind. Part of the socialization process of all humans includes a means for assessing the danger of the unfamiliar. In many cases the prejudices that are reinforced in the socialization process are necessary to provide for the well being of the individual. For example: Teaching a child to refuse to talk to strangers is a self protection device that must be continuously reinforced until the child displays a certain level of wariness to be able to afford a certain level of awareness to potentially dangerous situations.
Learned Cultural Prejudice
The accumulation of prejudice through cultural learning is something else entirely. These are values and attitudes that are separate from actuality and are based on presupposed beliefs of an individual or group about target individuals or groups. The target group is stereotyped as having certain negative characteristics that define them as less than fully human. It may include culture, gender, skin color, body type, dress, religion, sexual orientation, etc. A good example of this is classical racism. A racist is not born that way but must be taught to be that way. The holder of the prejudice assumes a higher status just by not being a member of the targeted racial group. What lies beneath all learned prejudices is a structural belief and value system that supports a superior status of the prejudiced individual and is reinforced by the natural proclivity of ethnocentrism and in extreme cases, xenophobia.
I often hear members of the white majority talk in terms of reverse racism. That is a different type of prejudice, all together, and will be covered in the third means of prejudice accumulation. However, what some call reverse racism is nothing more than a reaction to the racism of the majority, with the majority the initial instigator of the prejudice. This is a common reaction of any minority to a majority that claims a higher status simply by means of being within the majority.
The acculturated (learned) prejudiced seems to constitute the most destructive type of prejudice or bias. In order for the individual to continue to hold their prejudicial views and beliefs, they must be continuously validated. Therefore, the holder of such views is unable or unwilling to perceive anything about the targeted individual or group that doesn’t validate the prejudiced belief. This is called selective perception. For example: Some are unable to accept that a person of say, a racial minority, was able to get into a prestigious education institution based strictly on their abilities and record, but must have been given some special status and consideration by lowering the requirements just to let in someone who is automatically less qualified because of race. The underlying belief is that it isn’t possible for someone of the targeted minority to have the attributes to have qualified independent of their race.
The destructiveness of this type of prejudice has plagued this nation for centuries and in many ways holds or society back from progressing and adapting beyond a certain level. It wasn’t that all long ago that it was illegal in many states for members of different races to date and marry.
In short, learned prejudices are not rational positions and evoke a response within the prejudiced individual that can’t be supported outside of the irrational beliefs.
The third means of acquiring prejudice is through that of personal experiences. This is when a detrimental act or acts are perpetrated on an individual and the individual attributing a negative characteristic onto the group as a whole who were the perpetrators. For example: My ex-father-in-law hated all Japanese. He served in the Navy during World War II and was severely wounded by a Japanese kamikaze, which killed the rest of his gun crew. He took this hatred to his deathbed. His prejudice is attributed to an incident of negative outcome.
Experiential prejudice does have a core element of justification for the irrationally held belief. Many people learn to be prejudice against a certain group because it is necessary to be able to dehumanize them for survival. Often enemy combatants must be characterized in this way so that the natural prohibition against harming others is overcome.
The so-called reverse prejudice is always initially learned as an experientially prejudice. This is prejudice taken up by the minority against the majority who has dominance over the minority. This also happens when a ruling minority subjugates, in some manner, the numerical majority. This was most evident after the fall of Hussein’s Iraq when sectarian violence sprang up between the ruling minority Sunnis and the subjugated majority of Shiites.
Although, there is a core element of truth to the acquired prejudice, it can and does have negative consequences to the holder of the prejudice as well as the group, at which the prejudice is directed.
Prejudice in any form is something that divides society and creates differentiation that is counterproductive to social order and functioning. All of us are guilty of having and holding prejudices. It takes a great deal of effort to rid oneself of such beliefs. Some find their prejudices like the old tattered overcoat that makes one feel warm and secure.
As we draw ever closer to the election this November, I would encourage all to search their inner most being and to evaluate whether or not your selection is based on something other than deeply held irrational prejudices. Search one’s soul first before making your selection.