Purpose of the Study
There has been a long drawn battle line between the White Americans and the African Americans in the United States. This prejudice has existed and many steps have been taken to eradicate this and provide equality. Today, it manifests itself in various forms in schools and colleges. This study is about this prejudice and the methods that could be adopted to eradicate the same.
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Gordon Allport (1954) defines prejudice as ‘an antipathy based on faulty and inflexible generalization. It may be felt or expressed. It may be directed toward a group or an individual of that group”. ‘Antipathy’ is more a negative feeling according to the Oxford English Dictionary but many psychologists feel that prejudice is not only a feeling but also a personality trait. On many occasions it is a presumption. Like Girls cannot play baseball; it is a boys’ game! No dress is taboo for the girl but boys just cannot appear in a girlie outfit. It is a trait that is not taught. Prejudices are actually caught, says Thomas Pettigrew (Quoted from Myers 2002). There is no such thing as a Prejudiced personality. But it more comes out of habit and an ingrained thought process either reinforced by the activities that took place earlier in their own life or in their close proximity.
Prejudice is the thought and discrimination in the outcome. While prejudice is a hostile attitude or a negative attitude towards a particular group, discrimination is the expression of that thought or attitude. Racial discriminations are really an outcome of racial prejudices. Unequal status and religion are also another major sources of prejudice that is found in societies. The impact of discrimination generates prejudices again. These two according to Myers (2002), have a causal relationship. While one can cause the other, it does not mean that one should cause the other. They may exist independently too. In social situations, physical differences are the primary causes to start off social discrimination and, therefore, prejudices. Color of skin, ethnicity and overall physical appearance all lead to racial discrimination and prejudices.
The I-Me model (Mead 1934) and the homo duplex model both impress upon the concept that the sociology of the person is imbibed much earlier than the psychological person who gets formed around age 5. Therefore, the sociological positioning and reason behind such prejudices are all created in the person even when the sociology is imbibed in him or her. In other words, the child compares the social situations and forms its own prejudices making it absolutely unique.
That is why, researchers indicate that though prejudices of two people might look similar but they are in no way the same. Though prejudices are stereotyped, their occurrences in individuals are different. Every person has his own prejudice and is unique in its temperament and variation. This stems from the concept that prejudices are formed both by direct means and by indirect causes. Direct causes are real contacts for the person and this is when he or she experiences and then forms a prejudice. Whereas, in the indirect causes, the person experiences what his or her friend went through, an imaginative cognition, resulting in imaginary ‘others’ about whom the person fanaticizes. This leads to prejudices of that specific group.
Prejudices come from different origins in the society. The figure below from Allport Model indicates the size and influence of every reason. Prejudices are formed out of every one of these reasons. The size of the box is an indicator of the importance of the phenomenon in the growth of prejudices in the society.
Frustration and aggression have been the historical and socio-cultural causes of prejudices. There has been suppression of specific groups of people in every society, according to the Scapegoat theory. Many like the communists are commonly scapegoats of this kind. Sociological institutions and man-made rules make up the socio-cultural level in the identification of the causes of prejudices. Situational include economic differences built-in by poverty, diseases that are rampant in a poverty stricken situation and social environment.
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Personality is the way one behaves. Prejudices are noticed based on the way a person behaves and individual prejudices occur when such things happen, while phenomenological is based on the linguistics, signs and symbols. Some words produce stereotypical reactions. The stimulus object is the real contact with the people who are the subjects of the prejudice. And according to the researcher, this is the least cause of the prejudices!
Subjects for interviewing
The following people were interviewed. The names provided are pseudo names.
- John, Male, aged 20, single, is in the college doing his graduation in Performing Arts. Has very keen interest in performing arts particularly dance forms. He is one of four children in a white family, had a prejudice for Afro-Americans which he overcame and now has Alto (nickname) who is an Afro-American as his dancing partner.
- Alto, Female, aged 19, single, is in the college doing her graduation in performing arts, one of five children in family from a largely Afro-American neighborhood. Works with a white which she initially thought was not possible.
- Simon, Male, 35, is a truck driver, father of two children, lives with family, Afro-American, works in a company that has both white and black drivers. Experiences prejudices in his work situation.
- Liz, Female, 42, is a software engineer, single-divorced, was married to an Afro-American.
The instrument was a string of questions for the interview. The purpose was to elicit information from the participants as much as possible. The interviews were informal; though the major direction of the interview was towards bring out their past experiences and how they fought against the prejudices in the society and in themselves if they had. The structure of the interview was:
- To identify whether there was and is any racial prejudice in the participants.
- To identify whether they had fought over and overcome such prejudices in their past life. If so, what was the outcome and what was the method that they employed?
- How successful are they in the current context and in maintaining it?
- Finally, what is their observation of the others in their workplace or environment, on how prejudiced they are and what could be done to bring them out of it?
The major findings that are relevant to the current work from the literature are:
- Prejudice is a trait and an attitude. This is possibly the root cause of social injustice and discrimination.
- Prejudice is formed or acquired by the individual and not born with him.
- Prejudice is individual-centered. That is to say, prejudice of one person is not the same as that of the other. This makes prejudice unique to everyone and would need special methods to remove for every individual.
- Prejudice is least created by direct experience or contact. In other words, most of the prejudices are either carried by social conditioning or by virtual experiences of the person.
The following are the major findings from the interview conducted with the four people whose details were presented earlier.
- Liz says, there are thoughts or prejudices in the minds of people that they are being mistreated. Even if they are not, they think they are! What would have been a normal experience is unnecessarily given a color, is her opinion. This again stems from the prejudice that the person might have had due to his social conditioning process.
- Prejudices in workplaces exist in the form of looking down on ideas and passing the leg work to a certain group of people, according to Simon. This is also due to social-cultural, economic and personality behavioral patterns. All this contributes to the situation.
- The performance of Afro-Americans is on par with the rest was not acceptable originally to him, says John, but his direct contact with Alto altered whatever preconceived notions he had about the group.
- Alto felt that the ideas and thoughts that she had will not be respected by ‘proud’ whites. But she says once she started working with John, the ideas and opinions she had about the group were proved wrong.
Prejudice formation checklist:
- Historical reasons
- Social-cultural reasons
- Economic reasons
- Personality reasons
- Language and ethnic reasons
- Direct contact
Prejudice is a learning process; therefore, eradication of prejudice can happen in de-learning what has been learned. The following is the checklist for eradicating racial prejudices.
- Intergroup contact (Klineberg 1968:p441) is one of the most effective methods that has provided results in understanding the ‘other’ group. Klineberg himself says, that it is not the only method by which prejudices could be removed.
- Multicultural education. Knowledge that all human beings are the same and that ‘all human beings are a single species and descend from a common stock’ (UNESCO, 1978), has to be spread. And education is the only way to do it.
- Everyone has to play a role in eliminating racial prejudice. Whenever a prejudice is noted or observed, the person should not ignore it but educate the person who is displaying it.
Youth program to overcome Prejudice
Racial prejudice cannot be removed overnight. A concerted effort is needed to ensure that the next generation is devoid or at least close to eradicating racial prejudice. Based on our discussion earlier and the research carried out the following program is suggested:
- A training camp has to be organized either during the summer holidays or any other holidays. The time needed for this camp will be one week.
- Purpose of the camp: This will be a multi-cultural educative camp that will put people from different ethnic origins together and have them undertake events like trekking into the woods together or participating in a building exercise for a social cause and attending classroom sessions.
- The classroom sessions will not be sermons but experiences of individuals and their experiences pro and anti to the prejudices that are in place. This will bring out an open discussion. The group size should be limited and the moderator should also be in place to ensure smooth flow of such discussions. Such discussion will help others to empathize with the event described and help in understanding the thought processes.
- At the end of the camp, an ‘ARMY’ to fight racial prejudices should be formed. This army will not tolerate or watch a racially prejudiced event to go past them in their day-to-day life when they return from the camp. They will stop the person who is committing it and educate him to understand that all people are one and the same and an individual does not make up the group.
- Finally, they should also carry back instruction material which should be taught in their school through their activities and other similar co- or extra-curricular activities.
Allport, Gordon W. (1958) The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Klineberg, Otto (1968) “Prejudice: The Concept” International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.: 439-448.
Mead GH, 1934. Mind Self and Society. Ed by Charles Morris. University of Chicago, Chicago.
US NSA. 1992, Models of Unity: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious.
UNESCO, 1978, Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. Web.