“He is not one of us”, “all black people are the same”, “we know better than they do”, these sentences and more are examples of prejudice, which is a hostile/negative attitude toward certain people based on their belonging to a group. It’s one of those psychological phenomena that lead to hatred, holding grudges, narrow-mindedness, and even more extremely, killing and genocide. Humans are indeed capable of doing real bad stuff!
Some might confuse prejudice with stereotype, which is a generalization about a group where characteristics are assigned to all members of the group regardless of their individual differences. Despite the fact that we always associate stereotypes with negative thoughts, stereotyping per se is not something bad. It is simply the mind’s way to organize information about other people without having to actively think about differentiated profiles with each and every person we meet. However, when we use stereotyping to make unfair and inaccurate assumptions about people, then we know we’re in trouble. Thus, this could lead to discrimination, which is a harmful/negative action towards a group merely based on their belonging to that group.
Many are the examples we have seen throughout history where people discriminated against each other because of religion, race, and many other criteria. For example, back during the days of racial discrimination in the United States, if Americans had heard about/saw a black man committing a crime, this would have confirmed their negative stereotypes about them (and of course, Americans already have these stereotypes engraved in their minds, whether a confirming evidence happened or not). This is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.
The thing is that when individuals are brought up in an environment where prejudiced attitudes are the norm, they would grow up and behave in a prejudiced way, a phenomenon known as institutional discrimination. Sometimes, people would even behave and adopt discriminatory attitudes to avoid breaking away from the norms of the group, even when deep inside they don’t believe them; this is known as normative conformity. Again, that is how powerful social influence can be.
One of the most iconic incidents in history that can be used to make sense of prejudice is the 9/11 accident, which has changed the face of political diplomacies and relations for good. After this accident, there has been great hostility directed towards Muslims around the world. Americans used scapegoating, which is how individuals displace their anger and frustration on groups that have less power. Americans blamed the entire Muslim population for an act, definitely a hideous crime, that they as a whole are innocent from. Just because the first started to feel the lack of security and grief over their late loved ones, they blamed Muslims for that just to feel the delight of knowing who did it.
In that sense, Americans have committed the ultimate attribution error, which is making dispositions about an entire group. They were quickly to conclude that all Muslims are terrorists and that the religion of Islam advocates violence and hate. Even though the picture is a little more clear when it comes to Americans’ view of Muslims, there are still boundaries that still exist.
All in all, we must first learn to acknowledge our prejudices without being afraid or ashamed. Because only then we can work on eliminating them and getting to know the “other” group from a fairer perspective.
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