The word “prejudice” means “pre-judging,” or, in other words, to form an opinion or a belief without any factual or rational reasoning for it. We normally think of common prejudices as directed toward others who are of a different race, religion, or even gender; and we form stereotypical notions about entire groups of people as a result.
There are, however, other prejudices too, and these can be just as irrational. The problem with common prejudices is that they limit us – they limit our experiences, our growth, our relationships, and, ultimately, our lives.
Here are 7 pretty common prejudices that we humans tend to hold.
1. Belief in Limitations
Yes, we have prejudices against ourselves. They can come from early childhood forward and we acquire them from our parents, teachers, and peers. We put ourselves in boxes with a stereotypical image of ourselves based on our backgrounds and our upbringing.
Thus, a high school student doesn’t consider going to college because his/her friends or family members say it really is a waste of time for people like them.
They will not be able to “hack” it and will only fail. Rather, the life these kids see for themselves is to get a job, maybe marry, and settle in for the same lives that their parents have and that their friends will have.
What they don’t realize is that with extra effort in school, by finding a mentor who will support and encourage them, stop producing negative emotions in themselves and taking initiative, they can get out of their boxes.
2. Older People Have Nothing to Teach Us
Older generations often suffer the prejudice of younger generations. In the workplace, especially, there is a belief that the older, upper management and executive types should just retire and make way for younger generations who are more “current” in the way the world works.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that the years of experience that older generations have is invaluable, and there is much to learn from them.
This behavior is a direct result of common prejudice – prejudice that has been born of the need to blame. When there are personal, local or national problems, prejudices flare.
During the economic downturn in 2008, all of the sudden immigration became a huge issue in America. Why? Because many were looking for someone to blame for their unemployment and their misery.
Rather than blame the big banks who created the crisis, adept politicians turned the anger and misery into hatred for illegal immigrants. Suddenly they were here taking our jobs and getting on our welfare rolls.
While nothing could be further from the truth, it was comforting to place the blame on a group of people who would not “fight back.”
It’s odd to think that the concept of one gender being superior in anything over another gender, but there are a lot of unconscious patterns of thought that we bring into adulthood from the beliefs and prejudices of our parents.
If we grew up in a household in which our fathers always earned more than our mothers (if our mothers worked), and our fathers always did the “handyman” things around the house; and if we grew up in a household in which the boys played football and the girls were cheerleaders or sang in the choir, then we grew up with stereotypes that are unconsciously ingrained.
We still do a double-take when we see women as part of a road crew making highway repairs; some of us till have trouble accepting that women become CEO’s of large companies or fill combat positions in the military service.
And women who “break the rules” are often shunned. A prominent female lawyer tells a story of her college years. She went home with her roommate during one spring break.
That roommate’s father was a judge. When she mentioned that she was considering law school, this judge told her that, really, the court just looked upon female lawyers as a nuisance. And this was in the ’80s, a time when we were supposed to be beyond all that.
5. The Belief that Other Cultures are Inferior
There is a wonderful post circulating on Facebook. Four African boys, scantily clad, are staring out over a vast and beautiful expanse of land. One of them says, “I’ve heard that children in America have to spend all day in closed-up rooms, sitting at tables with books.”
One of the other boys says, “That is so sad. Maybe we should take up a collection for them.” What a wonderful comment on prejudice and stereotyping. We all grow up believing that our “culture” is the best – that the traditions, the social norms, and the values of our communities are superior to others.
We feel sorry for people of other cultures, and we actually shun them because they somehow do not measure up to our standards of a correct lifestyle.
In fact, we have much to learn from other cultures, and, as our world grows increasingly smaller, those of us who do not take the time to develop relationships with others who are “different” will be left in the dust.
Every culture has valuable contributions to make to humanity and it is our job to learn about values and belief systems that are different from our own. We can never expect to achieve world peace unless we do.
6. Condemnation of Different Lifestyles
We seem to have a need to judge others according to our belief systems. It is as if somehow, someone else’s way of life within our country is a terrible threat to ours.
Thus, certain groups condemn a gay lifestyle; other groups condemn a religion that is quite different from their own. In most instances, this occurs because someone else whom we admire and respect has told us to judge and condemn.
We have taken no time to understand these lifestyles or religions by developing relationships with individuals from these “different” sub-cultures.
In public schools across the country, one can walk into any cafeteria during lunchtime and see it. Each sub-culture sits as a group – the preps, the nerds, the whites, the blacks, the Hispanics, the Muslims.
None of them is willing to “mix it up,” because, from a very early age, members of this group have only hung out with others of their same “ilk.”
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
The common sense, in this case, is simply sticking with your own kind. How sad.
7. Judging by Appearances
As we observe this all the time and perhaps we, too, are guilty. We see a group of black teens with their pants hanging low; then we see a group of girls with wild hair colors, tattoos, and body piercings; we see a group of Muslim women with their burkas.
Immediately we make judgments about how they must live and behave. We make a wide berth around the dirty homeless man on the street because he must be crazy, drunk or on drugs. We have no idea about the individual values and behaviors of these individuals.
Of course, we only know that they must be “bad” because of the stereotypes we have been programmed to believe about them. Never having a personal experience with anyone from any of these groups means that we will continue to put them all in the same bucket and continue our fear and/or contempt.
So what do these common prejudices mean for us?
If we continue to maintain them, we lead very narrow lives indeed. We miss opportunities to grow, to learn new things, and to have wonderful experiences that make our lives rich and full and open. I recently had occasion to hear an interview with a white supremacist on TV.
What I took away from that interview was this: What a sad, little life of fear, anger, bitterness, and hatred he lives on a daily basis. He, like many of us, should read or re-read Dr. Seuss’s book, The Sneetches and keep it nearby for constant reference.