WHAT REALLY DIVIDES US IS PREJUDICE
Stated simply, prejudice is pre-judging another person for their values, looks, or behaviors. Humans use these judgments as psychological placeholders. We categorize people to help us evaluate their inner character and estimate their intentions toward us. As such, there is a whole range of prejudices one may harbor, as people commonly prefer to be around people who are like them (homophily) and, thus, not as keen to hang out with people who are different (heterophily).
In light of recent events, some have found great advantage in re-labeling all prejudice as racist. Activists have loudly argued that racism is a systemic, compelling—yet often unconscious—prejudice against people wearing other skin colors. Taking their cue to do some soul searching, I have only found that as a white male, I do not regularly practice bias against others based on the color of their skin. But you will have to take my word for it.
Nevertheless, I discovered that I am prejudiced. I freely admit it—I practice discrimination against other people every moment of every day.
And so do you. We all do.
Like every other human on earth, there are things I like and other things for which I do not care. For example, I enjoy my property, and I am highly prejudiced against anyone who would take from me what is rightfully mine. I worked for it—they did not.
Similarly, I harbor prejudice against selfish people. In fear of being judged the same way, I try to practice generosity so that no one will easily discriminate against me on that same account. Furthermore, I am prejudiced against people who find ways to avoid hard and honest work. That goes for the rich wall-street investor and the bum alike, white-collar or blue.
As I self-examine, I see that I also harbor extreme prejudice against bullies and thugs—those folks who demand their way and throw temper tantrums when people try to stand up to them. I discriminate especially against those who would use coercive and violent force to marginalize others. I disrespect people who disrespect the law and our elected authorities.
These days, I am also annoyed by people who think they can read my mind or believe they are more qualified than me to determine what I like or dislike—and those who think they know all about the privilege I’ve enjoyed (brother, your envy is showing). I am biased against those who tell me I am merely like the fish in the ocean that is too stupid to realize he is all wet. If you knew me, you would know that I am not a clueless enabler of some hate group (sister, your prejudice is showing).
Last time I checked, bullies come in all skin colors, from many cultures, and are of various ages; they can be Democrat or Republican, college-educated, or drop-outs; they can be rich or poor. Oddly enough, I am more willing to tolerate the differences of ideology, class, culture—and yes, even race—much more comfortably than I can tolerate a sharp contrast in personality.
On the other hand, I am positively prejudiced toward those who like calm dialectic and reasoned responses to refine our best practices in a free society. I respect those who have endured many slings and arrows and still manage to carry on with grace and forgiveness and without any notion of revenge. You are my heroes!
We are all prejudiced. (I write that last sentence with some irony in that even my grammar check program just now suggested that I substitute the word racist for the word prejudice.) It is impossible not to discriminate as we bridge life’s gaps and try to make sense of the world.
The real problem is that we often keep using our prejudices long after their expiration dates. A healthy soul will reconsider, re-evaluate, and check their signals before they reapply a prejudice in a new situation. Is it still valid? Does it reliably help one make sense of others’ values and behaviors?
Here is the truth, my deepest confession: I will hopelessly continue to be highly prejudiced against jerks. So reprimand me if you have taken offense. Shut me down. Silence my voice. Do what you must. But know that at least I am one white male citizen who can freely admit his real prejudice.
©Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.