“The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out or stumble upon a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it the representative of a whole class.”
Walter Lippmann

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks.”
Charlotte Bronte

Prejudice: A Definition

By Gordon Allport

Let’s look at the stages of hostile relationships—starting with “predilection.”

Predilection simply means that someone prefers one culture, one skin color, or one language as opposed to another. If you like Mexican culture and I do not, there is no use arguing about taste. We may disagree on such matters, but, as a rule, we respect one another’s choice. Predilections are natural. But they are the first step toward scapegoating if they turn into more active biases, that is to say into—

Prejudice. A prejudice is an attitude in a closed mind. (“Don’t bother me with facts, I’ve already made up my mind.”) Some Europeans may think that all Americans are loud-mouthed spendthrifts. This stereotyped view is hard to change. It is a prejudice. An Oxford student is said to have remarked, ” I despise all Americans, but I’ve never met one I didn’t like. It This anecdote suggests that prejudgments may stand even when available evidence is against them. Some people with prejudices may think blacks have rhythm, that Scotsmen are thrifty, or that a woman’s place is in the home.

Prejudice, if kept to oneself, causes no great harm except to the mind that possesses it. But prejudice expressed leads to–

Discrimination. That means leaving somebody out because of prejudiced thinking. Generally it is based not on an individual’s qualities but on a “label” branding the individual as a member of a group to be looked down upon. It means separating a group forcibly and unjustly from our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, our labor unions, and our professions.

Scapeqoatinq is hostile behavior by word or deed. The victim usually cannot fight back, for scapegoats are usually members of vulnerable minority groups. The essential cowardice of scapegoating is illustrated by the persecution of the Salem “witches,” a small, frail handful of people who could not fight back.

Everyone judges. Even animals judge. Have you ever witnessed an animal meeting a stranger for the first time? The animal must make a judgment call on whether the stranger is safe or dangerous. We do the same thing. It’s an instinctual skill we use to keep ourselves safe. We are constantly judging our environment and making decisions based on those judgments. Not all judgments are correct; not all are wrong. But judgement is not something we can avoid in life. In fact, babies learn to judge their environments as early as 3 months old (see Visual Cliff Experiment below).

The difference between judgement and prejudice is prejudice is an opinion or judgment that disregards the facts; making a decisions to believe a certain way no matter what the circumstance. Prejudice is socially learned and is usually grounded in misconception, misunderstanding, and inflexible generalizations. With prejudice, the traits or qualities about one person are applied to a group of people with the similar trait.

A common prejudice presently is that all Muslims are terrorists. While it is appropriate to have a fear of terrorists, labeling all Muslims as terrorist is a generalization. Not all terrorists are Muslims and not all Muslims are terrorists. To judge a whole group of people based on their religious beliefs is unjustified.

There is a new prejudice recently being recognized: reverse racism. The 13th amendment, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery in the United States. Even present day, African-Americans in the US continue to fight for equal rights (as do many other races). But while prejudice against African-American’s still exists, there is now a prejudice against Caucasians in the US. There are no more “white only” areas/institutions in the US, but now there are “black only” institutions such as colleges. There are still prejudices against bi-racial couples and children.

In the south-west states, Mexican immigrants are dealing with prejudice against them. They are immigrating here to find better job opportunities and to provide for their families. If we trace back into history, most Americans are descendants of immigrants. Why are these new immigrants perceived as a threat?

While prejudice will exist in some shape or form, we can each look within ourselves and analyze our own perceptions of people. If we find we have any prejudices, we can educate ourselves about this particular group of people and why our prejudice exists. You just might find that we are more alike than how we label each other.

Visual Cliff Experiment:

Visual Cliff

The visual cliff apparatus was created by psychologists Eleanor J. Gibson and R.D. Walk at Cornell University. In the test, a child is placed on one end of the platform and the caregivers stands on the other side of the clear surface. The assumption was that if a child had developed depth perception, he or she would be able to perceive the visual cliff and would be reluctant or refuse to crawl to the caregiver. Research has demonstrated that children as young as three-months are able to perceive the visual cliff. When placed over the apparent “edge,” their heart rate quickens, eyes widen and breathing rate increases.

While this experiment was solely to research depth perception, it demonstrates that even at any early age humans have the ability to judge their environment.

Common Types of Prejudices:

  • Racism:
    Discrimination against people of a different race. The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them.
  • Reverse Racism:
    Discrimination against a dominant racial group in a society.
  • Ageism:
    Discrimination against people on the grounds of age. It effects both older and younger people. Older people are thought to be inflexible and stuck in the past, while younger people are seen as inexperienced and naïve.
  • Classism:
    Discrimination based on distinctions made between social or economic classes. It effects people of all social and economic status.
  • Colorism:
    Discrimination based solely on the color of a person’s skin; how relatively dark or light they are. Colorism takes place within and between races.
  • Ableism:
    Discrimination against people with visible disabilities such as those in wheelchairs or with a learning disability.
  • Sexism:
    Discrimination based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles. It effects both men and women.
  • Heterosexism:
    Discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is practiced by heterosexuals against non-heterosexuals.
  • Sizeism:
    Discrimination based on a person’s body size or weight. Sizeism works with social standards of beauty.
  • Religion:
    Discrimination based on a person’s or a group’s religious beliefs.
  • Nativism:
    Discrimination against immigrants to a country. Unlike many other forms of discrimination, Nativism is many times encouraged and enforced by the government and other public entities.