“If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon” (quotegarden.com). This quote was spoken by George Aiken, and it describes his view of humanity’s amazing ability to find fault with itself. Prejudices can and have lead to some of the worst actions of humanity, such as the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and slavery. These horrible events that defined our species and shaped our history are being overlooked in light of current developments culturally. Prejudices are now being used in the current pop culture as a prop, completely disregarding the historical connotations and consequences of such thoughts. The fact is that prejudices have affected us as people and shaped our culture in an irreversible way.
In order to truly understand what is molding our nation, we must first define this plague. According to Wordnetweb.princeton.edu, prejudice is defined as a “bias: a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.” This partiality can manifest itself in different forms. Ralph Rosnow enumerates many forms in his article, Poultry and Prejudice. The word prejudice is most commonly used to refer to a preconceived judgment toward a people or a person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics (Rosnow). In these definitions, prejudice is clearly labeled as a negative term. Reasonable people see this as a negative concept is because it discourages thinking for yourself. Prejudices have been decided by other people to be the correct line of thinking, despite all conventional logic. Prejudice is just one form of discrimination one person can enact on another.
Prejudice is a seed that can grow into a tangled bramble of anger and hate. Once the bramble has grown to its fullest potential, almost no amount of pruning can be done that can completely destroy the weed. Despite the suffering the plant may cause, the true danger lies in the subtlety of the seed. It may slip in when a person least expects it and it may grow swiftly without any sign of which direction it may take. The aforementioned weed is a fully developed prejudice. This prejudice can lash out in many ways and sometimes cause physical or emotional harm to another person or group of people. Hate crimes do not just appear out of thin air. Much like the tangle in the metaphor, a hate crime grows from a presupposition, or prejudice. A hate crime is defined by urespect.umich.edu as “a criminal offense committed against a person or property that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion.”(University of Michigan) While hate crimes are heinous acts, they cannot exist without a prejudice to back them up. Fighting hate crimes while ignoring the underlying issue would be trying to treat the symptoms of a disease while ignoring the real cause of the symptoms. The fight is unwinnable. In order to fight hate crimes, a preventative approach must be taken against prejudices instead of hate crimes. The starting point of prejudice can be set by parents, friends, or other people close to a person. Each person has a unique situation that only pertains to him or her. A universal cause that specializes in feeding misinformation, and thus aiding the development of prejudices, is the media in today’s culture.
In the current age of instant communication, it is nearly impossible that any one person is completely free from the media’s death grip on information. When most people think of the media, thoughts of news and reporting pop into their minds. The media however, covers anything produced for viewing pleasure or, in some cases, pain. In modern media such as movies and television, prejudices are used as props for comedy. These prejudices are thrown about light-heartedly and for some reason concepts, words, and phrases that are derogatory or hurtful to a person or group of people in a normal situation, are funny on-screen. This raises the question; when does prejudice become comedy? It is possibly due to conditioning, that people find racial or sexual humor to make them uncomfortable. In their awkward discomfort, they laugh nervously and eventually the giggle turns into an uncontrollable belting cackle. More often than not, it is not that people find racism, sexism, or any other form of discrimination funny. What is the most likely cause of the laughter is the discomfort of being exposed to an idea that is clearly biased and seemingly below ‘civilized’ standards of thought. How is it possible to discern when prejudice is funny, and when it is proper? It is a commonly held belief that prejudices stop being funny when they are put into a very real and sometimes dangerous situation. Eight out of ten people who were interviewed said that the context clues were what told them if it was ok to laugh or not. One participant said, “Like in Family Guy, you know it’s a comedy show, so it’s obviously ok to laugh. But if you were watching CSI, you would know better, because CSI has a darker more serious tone, so you know it would be ignorant to laugh” (Interview 10). Other people remarked about how they “could just tell” when it was appropriate to laugh (Interviews 1-10).
Because of the downplaying of common prejudices many people do not understand that to consciously hold a prejudice and ignore facts that prove the prejudice to be unfounded is immoral. All but the most trivial of decisions are capable of being seen as moral dilemmas. When a course of action is selected, it is only logical that another course of action is equally not chosen. For example, when a person chooses to support a prejudice they also choose to ignore evidence against the prejudice. If a decision is actively made without logical thinking then it can only be made in ignorance. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” has been long held to be incorrect. Decisions made in a state of mind that is understood to be wrong can be considered morally wrong. Therefore if a prejudice is a choice made of ignorance and choices made in ignorance are morally wrong, then prejudices must be essentially morally wrong. In a series of interviews nine out of ten people agreed that everyone holds at least one kind of prejudice (Interviews 1-10). This makes things complicated when applied to the broader population. If everyone has prejudices and prejudices are wrong then that would make every person on the planet morally bankrupt. That leads to a whole separate series of questions about the degrees of morality and whether some prejudices are less moral than others.
Prejudices can never be eliminated and they will forever have an impact on the way human beings live. Wayne W. Dyer put it very well when he stated “Judgements (sic) prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances” (quotegarden.com). This quote goes to dissect the moral grievance of having a prejudice. No one person is free of prejudice and so at some point all humans must come to grips with their own prejudices. In order to fully appreciate how we as human beings must live and interact we must understand that we are not perfect and in doing so we must acknowledge that we each have discrimination etched into our brains. It was Henry David Thoreau who stated that, “It is never too late to give up our prejudices” (quotegarden.com). Let humanity live by this quote and surely, with the right intentions and proper care, humanity shall eliminate racism and prejudice.
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