Since today is Martin Luther King day in the United States, my mind is rolling around the concepts of prejudice this morning. Although there are famous speeches about it by people far greater in this world than me, I have my thoughts on the matter.
Prejudice is not about race, gender, religion, wealth, nationality, or any of the other myriad of things people claim it for. To categorize it in such ways it misses the entire point of the conversation. Yes, it has been used for all of those purposes and more, to combat injustice, inequality, unfair treatment, hatred. But I cringe every time I hear or read something that focuses solely on one problem and tries to offer “the” solution.
Prejudice is not the privilege of the white upper class man as I’ve read bantered about recently, either. Saying because someone is raised in a certain way that they are then expected to act in that way forever is prejudiced in itself. People are raised in all kinds of ways that, while influencing their lives in some ways, do not determine where they end up.
Prejudice is about fear, plain and simple. Fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of change. Fear at its core. The primal need to protect oneself comes roaring out, blazing forth.
Anyone at any time can be prejudiced about anything. That’s life. That’s normal. That’s part of being a human being. To think that someone isn’t prejudiced or shouldn’t ever be prejudiced is wrong. And to think that because you support one cause or another like gender equality or religious equality or any of the other myriad of causes out there makes you not prejudiced is misleading.
If you are human, you are prejudiced.
You can’t stop it. You can’t will it away. You can’t run fast enough to stay out of it’s grasp. It will come out of you. It will rear its ugly little head. It will find a way … because fear is basic to man’s instincts. Everyone is afraid of something.
I know … I hear you stuttering. But, but, but … I’m a good person. I believe everyone should be equal. I support __________ rights. So do I. And that’s great and important … but it will not end prejudice because focusing on the wrong cause never solves the problem. And in the case of prejudice the cause is not about one thing or another. It’s much bigger than that … and much more intimate. It’s like having a fight with all your friends on Facebook in an attempt to get your husband to pick up his socks.
Would you do that? I’ve seen people attempt similar things. And sometimes they are successful. Group guilt. Peer pressure. It works and has for eons. Problem is, it doesn’t work for long. It wears off when the group decides to focus on something else and quits providing the impetus for change. It’s like the media spotlighting one particular crime or heinous act of an individual and the world goes mad … but two months later no one even remembers the act because the media has moved on and so too the world. No real change has happened. Just a lot of hoopla.
To change prejudice you have to greet it where it begins … with individual fears rooted in each person’s brain. To change prejudice you have to be intimate with its cause. And the only way to do that is to be intimate with other people.
Prejudice unites people like nothing else. Shared fears feed off one another. Our worlds become a place of sensationalism, everything’s a cause to be fought for, no one is safe, everyone is right, everyone is wrong. It doesn’t take much to start it off. One spark, as they say. One person being afraid. One human being offended.
To fight prejudice in our world, we have to fight fear … but we can never end fear because it is primal to who we are. So we have to learn a new way to respond to fear … not only to our own fears but to the fears of those around us. That isn’t going to happen by gathering millions in a march on the government headquarters or spamming social media or excluding those who don’t believe the “right” way. Because all of those things become prejudiced as well.