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Dec 04

Prejudice is Down Deep

In Brief—A peek at the often hidden prejudice that hides within most of us as well as the blatant prejudice we find in some misguided individuals.


Prejudice is a Plague Hiding Within—

prejudice-slashcircleIt emerged from hiding in my subconscious in the unlikeliest of places. Dressed in my hippie trousers, flowered shirt and with my wallet tucked in my waistband, I was walking through Disneyland, “The Magic Kingdom,” when I saw them…two young well-dressed African-American men walking toward me enjoying the sights amid the happy crowd. Instinctively, I tapped my wallet to see if it was there. Busted! My hidden prejudice arose from my subconscious to reveal itself in all its ugliness. Fortunately, I recognized it and have dealt with it…but it’s there.

Scientific research shows that prejudice toward outsiders is an inborn defense mechanism that came from our early ancestors who were suspicious of those not in their group. It’s usually easy to identify “The Other”: Those who have a different skin color. Those who speak a different language. Those who come from a different culture. Those who flee deadly violence, corruption and privation.

What drives us to experience prejudice? Fear is usually the culprit. Economic fears: “They’re going to steal our jobs or our possessions.”

Personal Security: “They’re going to attack me or my loved ones.”

Health Threats: “They’re dirty or disease-ridden and will infect us.” Fear of immigrants or vagrants carrying diseases.

Traditional Values: “They love others of the same sex; they have a feminist agenda; they don’t revere our national anthem; they want to bring down our system of government; they worship in a different way.

You can probably add to this list, but in every case, the outsiders are different in some way that sets them apart from the majority.

A look around this chaotic world shows how destructive prejudice is. People of color are forced into substandard housing or jobs that pay less…if they have job at all. Researchers have found that people with African-American sounding names are not hired despite having the same education or experience as the white applicant.

They are shot by police or civilians who imagine they are under threat. Flip open the daily newspaper. They are denied justice in the unjust court system. They receive substandard education or their parents are denied food stamps and childcare. They are targeted by politicians selfishly interested in advancing their own careers…and bank accounts.

Using fear, right-wing political parties inflame the gullible citizenry to oppose rational solutions. It’s happening in America. It’s happening in Europe. In Asia and Australia. Lack of empathy and compassion are ignored, and prejudice driven by fear of “The Other” is inexorably leading humanity to extinction in the not-too-distant future.

Rational thought is abandoned as primitive instinct is released from the depths of millennia of evolution. Civilization gives way to our basest instincts.

A number of famous people have written about prejudice. It’s worth considering what they have said…

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”― Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

“Do you know what we call opinion in the absence of evidence? We call it prejudice.”― Michael Crichton, State of Fear

“Someone has said that it requires less mental effort to condemn than to think.”― Emma Goldman

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”― Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

All of us need to explore our subconsciouness to recognize prejudice that’s hiding within and tame it. We need to recognize the wisdom of Audre Lorde and celebrate our differences, not let them frighten us. We must rise above our unreasoning fears.

19 comments

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  1. Arthur Ulene

    Thanks, Don, for this very important message. Long, long ago…. I was one of those “prejudice-deniers”. Not me! But it’s there…. always has been…. and the only way you can keep it from expressing itself through action is to acknowledge it’s presence…. and always be on the lookout for signs.

    Tomorrow, I’m going to have my own stab at neurosurgery. I’ve got two bad discs in my neck, so the bones are sitting on each other instead of on “cushions’…. and, of course, that means that they are also sitting on nerves. I was able to resist the operation while it was only intermittently painful, but it has been constant for the last few months and I have started to lose strength in the associated muscles of my left arm. Can’t avoid this any longer.

    The procedure will be done tomorrow (Monday)… the neurosurgeons says that I will go home on Tuesday… start walking on Wednesday…. be back on the gym on Thursday…. and (hopefully) be back on the mountain before the ski season ends on April 16th. (I had to promise him that I would not fall.)

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom… and yourself. A visit with you in person is high on my travel list. I’ll keep you posted. Keep those messages coming. Priscilla and I send our love…….. Art

    1. Don Bay

      You’re right: everybody has some prejudice within just waiting to spring out. As soon as it reveals itself to us, we have a choice to either fight it and bring it under control with our rational minds or allow it to control us and smother our rationality. Rational honest people choose to fight it and refuse to allow it to fill us with fear of “The Other.”

      Knowing you, I expect you to be on those ski slopes in April. Smooth turns and no falling, please.

  2. Arthur Ulene

    Don,

    I think that I have already sent you a link to Mort Rosenblum’s website/blog. If not, you’ll find it below and I highly recommend it to you. Mort was a journalist who covered foreign affairs all of his life…. He’s a very smart guy… superb writer….. holds back no punches…. and I think you will enjoy his work. If you have any trouble connecting, please let me know……… Art

    This personal Mort Unplugged list is for occasional diatribes from an old-hand correspondent. Drop a note to mort.rosenblum@gmail.com or click the Constant Contact sign-up link to join. My site is mortrosenblum.net. You can also find Reporting Unlimited on Facebook and, soon, on the Web. All comments are welcome — please feel free to share this at will.

    1. Don Bay

      Thanks for the reference to Mort Rosenblum. I will check his site out.

  3. Jim Newton

    I have been saying for many years that it is up to each person to be constantly aware when prejudice pops up, and when it does we all have a responsibility to root it out. And for the most part I think I have, especially living in South Africa, but it’s not prejudice against black people, it’s against white. Apartheid is alive and well here in some peoples’ minds and hearts. And as usual, and what makes prejudice so difficult, is that there are the cases where their prejudice causes mine against them, but the real issue is that at times I have assumed before I knew a given individual that they were prejudiced, spawning my own prejudice against them.

    And prejudice is deep rooted. My parents, from Alabama, were very prejudiced, and while I often fought with them about civil rights, and the need to be unprejudiced, some of it rubbed off on me in spite of my strong need not to have prejudice. That’s why we have to root it out, because it’s so deep rooted.

    And I have a conscious prejudice against black men who exert power and control over the women in their lives. If a given man is actually abusing his woman I think I have a responsibility to try to oppose that. But the prejudice comes in when I don’t know if a given man is doing that and I assume, because that’s part of the culture, that he is. Pre Judge because of what I know about the culture.

    \Thanks for this. We all need to be reminded, and it’s our responsibility to be aware.

    1. Don Bay

      Awareness is only the first step, but it’s an essential first step. Once there is awareness, it’s up to all of us to deal with it honestly. We’ll never “root it out” because it’s there as long as we live. The important thing is to fight it and work on rationality, shoving fear aside. As has been said, “Fear is the soul-killer.” In the case of prejudice, it kills our rational minds. Though it is a constant struggle, the important thing is the battle. You have won one battle, but there are others to fight. Fight as long as you draw breath.

  4. Donna

    sometimes, people grow up with prejudice ingrained in them as a child. I was five years old when I was sharply corrected for saying “nigger” to describe a black person. My earlier years were in Texas and my gentle and kind aunts, uncles, and grandparents just used that word that I learned from them. I also observed “white only” drinking fountains, separate areas in theaters, etc. All that changed when I moved to Albuquerque where such language and signs of prejudice were not there.

    Perhaps little prejudice against blacks, but the people of Albuquerque had their own prejudices -against Mexicans. We often attributed negative qualities to Mexicans without knowing anything about them.

    Another type of prejudice, I think, is toward uneducated, unsophisticated people. I have probably been on both ends of this -not as smart and educated as some, but smarter and more educated than others.

    I hope I have learned to recognize prejudice in myself, but it’s a job that is never finished. You just have to keep working on it.

    1. Don Bay

      As you say, it’s so deep that only honesty with yourself can recognize it. Then the conscious mind takes over (or not) to keep the inborn prejudice under control keeping in mind that you’ll never be completely free of the infection.

      You are absolutely right that many of us harbor prejudice against uneducated people. I’m one of those. It’s a constant battle and one that is apparent today. We have to face facts and recognize that it’s a flaw that will always be with us because we are human. “The Other” is a boogeyman that hides within. The only weapons are honesty and determination…and thinking.

  5. Susan

    Nicely written!
    Agreed!

    1. Susan

      And adding to the above, there is no us and no them, there is no division except in the mind where we are all idiots. When we realize we are actually all souls,( even the Trumps have a soul ) believe it or not.
      With open hearts there is no division.
      Remember that book , Jonathan Livingston Seagull?
      If you haven’t a college degree you aren’t as smart as me. Think about trees and animals. Can anyone be above or below us really?
      Most of us live in our minds most of the time,and that has a purpose but is the heart less of a mind because of it’s location? I think about this stuff all the time and the mind is not where I feel it.

      1. Don Bay

        I buy your point that we are all humans, but I disagree with your belief in the soul (except as a figure of speech) and that the heart is a thinking/feeling organ. The mind/brain is everything; the heart merely keeps us alive.

        All those prejudices are in our minds. They either rule us or we rule them. The logical thing is for all of us to keep any prejudice from controlling us. It’s an emotional (and literary) thing to refer to the heart as a controlling organ, but scientific proof shows us that the brain originates all our actions. I know that you believe in “love thy neighbor,” but although belief that the heart is a thinking organ is a nice figure of speech, don’t be fooled into believing outdated nonsense.

        Stay as lovable as you are, but you’ll never convince me that the heart is the equal of the brain. That reminds me of an old joke, but I can’t repeat it here.

    2. Don Bay

      Smooth talker. Flattery will win me almost every time.

  6. Jim Newton

    Wanna start another debate? You say the heart is only to pump blood, which is technically true, but for many of us we use “the heart” to represent feelings, which are in the body. Feelings are the body’s reaction to thoughts in the brain, and they are as real, and actually more important, than the brain for living our lives. So if we replace references to the heart with notions about our all-important feelings then the concept is right on.

    The old saying, “when in doubt go guts” meaning pay attention to the feelings which are often a better guide than thoughts, is vital in leading an honest life.

    1. Don Bay

      There’s no debate about facts. As I said to Susan—and as you say—the heart is to pump blood and keep us alive, but the heart is merely a device for expressing our emotions, not the originator. The originator of that “device” is the brain.

      “When in doubt go guts” is another common myth. Research shows that gut decisions are only occasionally right. The best decisions are thought out in light of the facts. Yes, pay attention to your gut, but be aware that you may simply be saying it’s telling you what you want. I have occasionally said that my gut is telling me such-and-so, but that doesn’t mean my gut is right. Actually, what you feel in your gut is actually originating in your brain. Did anybody tell you you’re a romantic?

  7. Jim Newton

    You’re only partially right, but when you call me a romantic I’m so pleased that I lose all heart (get it?) for a debate.

    1. Don Bay

      I still love a romantic. How about a manly pat on the back?

  8. Jim Newton

    Done, and thanks.

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    1. Don Bay

      Flattery will get you a cup of coffee, but I’ll keep thinking and writing, so please keep reading…including the Comments. Readers like you have some powerful stuff to say.

      Welcome to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. And thanks for writing! I’ll try to keep it interesting.

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