Monday, November 2, 2009
I have been thinking about the concept of prejudice, and how it has become politicised and distorted. The term prejudice is related to the English term "prejudge". In its commonly understood usage, it means judging a person based on prior conceptions. When it is used with pejorative connotations, it means judging a person negatively who deserves a more favourable opinion.
In reality, prejudice is a natural stage of cognition. If you are barreling down the sidewalk and see a woman who looks to be about 90, you might slow down so you won't jostle her. You might also look to see if she needs help crossing the street. Chances are, your impression that she is frail and slow on her feet might be right. If you see her straddling a Harley Davidson and strapping on a motorcycle helmet, you will be understandably shocked. This is because your preconceived image of the old lady on the Harley has been proven invalid.
There is a story about Condoleeza Rice, George Bush's African American Secretary of State going to buy jewelry. The woman in the store showed her cheap, costume jewelry, thinking that she was a low budget customer. Ms Rice quickly corrected her, telling the woman that she earned enough to be able to afford expensive jewelry, and that is what she expected to see. I did not hear the end of the story, but the sales woman probably adjusted her perceptions very quickly in order not to insult Ms. Rice.
There is nothing wrong with prejudice. Everyone starts off with a preconceived notion of who people are. Sometimes this notion might be negative. It may also be based on prior experience. The problem is when a person does not let go of their prejudices and lets prior impressions and opinions take the place of first hand, present moment experience. Prejudice is really only a starting assumption about a people or a group. What varies from individual to individual is how, if or when they set aside prior notions for something more accurate.
I watched a Pepsi commercial that brought this home in a dramatic and funny way. A little girl asks for a Pepsi in a pizza shop. The man gives her a Coke. She takes offence, and demands a Pepsi in the quiet, raspy voice of Don Corleone, an old mafia boss. He very quickly sizes up the unusual situation and comes up with a Pepsi. To me, the commercial was not only funny, but a textbook illustration of how prejudice is replaced with reality. Most examples are not as funny as the Pepsi commercial, but if you look back on your life, you will find less dramatic examples.
I hope that my readers will reflect on my examples and observations. Because the manner in which we define words and use them limits our ability to think clearly.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LnJskwydvM Sphere: Related Content