The Problem With Prejudice

The Problem With Prejudice

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When most of us hear the word prejudice, we think first of a negative attitude toward groups of people, often based on race. With that in mind, we also may think of it as an attitude held mainly by other people, not ourselves (since we, naturally, deplore that attitude).

But there's much more to prejudice than that, as one of my pastors pointed out in a recent sermon. And when we understand it more broadly, the first place we should look to find it is in the mirror.

Prejudice, he noted, isn't merely an attitude toward a group of people based on (say) race, though that's one kind. And it isn't at all what the world today says it is: taking a moral stand on sexuality and the nature of marriage. Prejudice, rather, is exactly what the word's component parts say it is: pre-judging — forming an opinion without having all the information you need.

I've had the same thoughts. Prejudice often targets not a member of a group, but an individual. You see or hear something about someone you don't know all that well, and from then on, you're predisposed to assume he's in the wrong. You may not even have first-hand information about him: You're going off something someone else said, adopting their opinions — or the grudges — as your own. You don't try very hard to get the other side(s) of the story. You don't reserve judgment in recognition of your limited knowledge. It's easier to think the worst — especially if your friends already do.

The problem with all this is not that we make judgments per se. We must make some judgments — assessments of character, evaluations of right and wrong. Nor is the problem that we form preliminary impressions of people. Incomplete information (sometimes even when it's second-hand) isn't the same thing as irrelevant information. Early on, we may see some red flags that are worth heeding. Our preliminary impressions may turn out, in the end, to be pretty much right.

But prejudice isn't willing to wait for the end. It's not interested in due process: It races ahead to the verdict. More than that, it typically takes satisfaction in that verdict (invariably "guilty"). It's the old game of specks and logs (Matthew 7:3-5): We focus on someone else's sins and deficiencies — real or imagined — to distract us from focusing on our own. That's our fallen nature at work in us.

When Christians must make judgments, the nature of the new man should prevail — finding fault only regretfully, not eagerly; patient and loving; not wearing blinders, but putting the best construction on everything. That's the Spirit of our Redeemer at work in us.

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  • Comment by Mike Theemling:

    We all have prejudices (and as noted, not just racial). It's simply a natural adaptive mechanism we use.

    For example, using a theoretical example, if I were to walk down my street reguarly and on a particular day a person wearing a pink hat were to throw a snowball at me. Then the next day a different person (doesn't matter on race/age/gender) wearing a pink hat were to throw a snowball at me. And the next day the same thing happened. What would be my natural, initial reaction upon seeing a different person not the same as any of the prior people on that street wearing a pink hat even if no snowball was in his/her hand? Would any anxiety felt be "prejudiced"? Certainly. But would this anxiety also be reasonable based upon my experiences? I would argue "Yes", it would be reasonable.

    But as we know, at least intellectually, not everyone who is in a particular group fits into the same mold. Not all LGBTs are promiscuous. Not all Christians condone violence against such. But depending on one's own individual experiences (including perceptions) you might be prejudiced to think in such a way. Although it would be easier, safer, and give us a sense or moral high ground to cling to such prejudices, it often is not to our benefit.

    Rather than try to pretend we don't have prejudices or raise a bigot flag every time someone admits they feel uncomfortable around such-and-such group, it's best to confront them and figure out why we have them, if they are warranted at all, and even if they were/are in that particular case, how we can not let that define all future encounters.

  • Comment by Michael Fumento:

    Okay Matt, I'm buying. With a caveat. (No matter how faithfully I brush, I still get caveats!)

    Prejudice for the most part is a good thing. We can't make decisions with completely fresh information on a regular basis. Good prejudice is built on solid information in the data banks.

    Viz, if I kick the wall I will probably hurt my foot more than the wall. If I see somebody who "looks like trouble" I will avoid him - assuming of course I'M not looking for trouble.

    It's our job as something on a higher level than nematodes to distinguish between good and bad prejudice. Of all the things I hate about where I live, Medellin, one thing that delights me is the GENERAL lack of race prejudice.

    There are four skin colors here: white (lots of people whiter than me), morena (the classic permanent sun tan look), triguena (dark white, like somebody from Bombay, er, Mumbai, and black.

    MEN will distinguish between them, but only to the same point they may prefer larger or smaller bosoms or tail ends. Other than that, it's really like eye color.

    Unfortunately, the huge exception is that they loathe "indigenas." Natives. The only native natives in Colombia are down in the Amazon River Basin. The rest, and there aren't many in Medellin, are people from Peru and Ecuador. People here are overwhelming of European descent, with some of African descent.

    In the US you might say "dog ugly;" here it's "ugly as a Peruvian."

    A couple of weeks ago I saw a Peruvian mom in very colorful traditional dress with her two daughters, gave them some coins, and took their picture. A Paisa (resident of Antioquia, the are in which lies Medellin) hissed at me "You're photographing uglies."

    In all fairness, not liking indigenous looks SEEMS biological. People universally tend to be draw to certain physical characteristics. With men it's a round face, large eyes, facial symmetry, baby-faces, larger breasts, a Coke-bottle figure, youthfulness. Women tend to favor taller, more muscular men.

    Do a Google Image search using "Miss Peru" and you won't find a single indigena. ALTHOUGH a Miss World popped up who was indigena.

    So I won't judge people who think indigenas are less attractive. But I LOVE the general lack of color prejudice here even as I loathe behavior of that one man when I snapped the Peruvians.

    That said, I find Paisa men to be a loathsome lot generally. Uneducated and proud of it, loud, feminine-looking, and machismo. That was not my original feeling. It is a NOW a prejudice. Of course there are exceptions, but that prejudice is a valid one.

  • Comment by Mike Fumento:

    Okay Matt, I'm buying. With a caveat. (No matter how faithfully I brush, I still get caveats!)

    Prejudice for the most part is a good thing. We can't make decisions with completely fresh information on a regular basis. Good prejudice is built on solid information in the data banks.

    Viz, if I kick the wall I will probably hurt my foot more than the wall. If I see somebody who "looks like trouble" I will avoid him - assuming of course I'M not looking for trouble.

    It's our job as something on a higher level than nematodes to distinguish between good and bad prejudice. Of all the things I hate about where I live, Medellin, one thing that delights me is the GENERAL lack of race prejudice.

    There are four skin colors here: white (lots of people whiter than me), morena (the classic permanent sun tan look), triguena (dark white, like somebody from Bombay, er, Mumbai, and black.

    MEN will distinguish between them, but only to the same point they may prefer larger or smaller bosoms or tail ends. Other than that, it's really like eye color.

    Unfortunately, the huge exception is that they loathe "indigenas." Natives. The only native natives in Colombia are down in the Amazon River Basin. The rest, and there aren't many in Medellin, are people from Peru and Ecuador. People here are overwhelming of European descent, with some of African descent.

    In the US you might say "dog ugly;" here it's "ugly as a Peruvian."

    A couple of weeks ago I saw a Peruvian mom in very colorful traditional dress with her two daughters, gave them some coins, and took their picture. A Paisa (resident of Antioquia, the are in which lies Medellin) hissed at me "You're photographing uglies."

    In all fairness, not liking indigenous looks SEEMS biological. People universally tend to be draw to certain physical characteristics. With men it's a round face, large eyes, facial symmetry, baby-faces, larger breasts, a Coke-bottle figure, youthfulness. Women tend to favor taller, more muscular men.

    Do a Google Image search using "Miss Peru" and you won't find a single indigena. ALTHOUGH a Miss World popped up who was indigena.

    So I won't judge people who think indigenas are less attractive. But I LOVE the general lack of color prejudice here even as I loathe behavior of that one man when I snapped the Peruvians.

    That said, I find Paisa men to be a loathsome lot generally. Uneducated and proud of it, loud, feminine-looking, and machismo. That was not my original feeling. It is a NOW a prejudice. Of course there are exceptions, but that prejudice is a valid one.

  • Comment by Mike Theemling:

    Didn't the apostle Paul write in Titus:

    “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”[c] This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:12-13)

    Doesn't that sound like of prejudiced?

  • Comment by DreamerGuy:

    I often find myself a victim of prejudice. I have been getting rejection letters who didn't even give me a chance for an interview. They probably think that I am too young or too inexperienced for these jobs, but these are jobs which did not even require a college degree a few decades ago. The worst part is that I have no way of proving them wrong when they won't speak to me. If this keeps up much longer, I may never have a career for the rest of my life.

  • Comment by ruru:

    Mike (3),

    Is it prejudice if the observation is the truth and is being used to help someone. In the example you give the quote is from a Cretian philosopher but is given to show that the Cretians need discipling. Paul is not writing them off as losers. Here in lies the difference between prejudice and using observations/ cultural study to help disciple people. Prejudice usually leads to a "forget them" or "don't waste your time" "they are beyound hope" attitudes. Paul on the other hand wants them to be strong in their faith not posioned by the flaws in their culture.

  • Comment by ruru:

    Dreamer Guy,

    I dont think it is prejudice. I think the reality is there are lots of people looking for work and companies don't have time to look at all the applications so they pick a few and then send rejection letters to the rest. Maybe the Lord has closed the door for a reason. Have you considered that maybe this isn't the career he wants for you or the timing isn't right? Just pray my brother and open yourself to HIS plan. So you never have a career, ok. Where in the Bible does it say "Thou shalt have prove that thou art an adult by having a career"? Does it say to work hard? yes. Be a diligent employee? Yes. Be a responsible human being? Yes. Everything else is in His hands.

    Matt. 6:33

  • Comment by Kim:

    I think sometimes prejudice can involve judging people's motives (and hearts) as well. When someone changes our work schedule, making it difficult for us, for example, we assume it was somehow made to spite us, as though the office girl is saying, "Hee hee hee! THIS schedule will make her life miserable!" Honest truth: I've sometimes thought this (culture shock working in another country only adds to the speck-in-the-other-guy's-eye syndrome). We judge before we learn WHY this schedule was made (like a teacher is sick and I need to cover for her).

    Or another example with roommates: "Obviously, she PURPOSEFULLY put the pickle jar on the WRONG shelf because she hates me." Ok, an exaggeration, but we definitely judge people's motives as though we are God, without hearing the whole story. And while I'm judging my roommate, I'm purposefully leaving the dishes in the sink to spite her. Yep. It's definitly a good reminder to take the plank out of our own eye.

  • Comment by Mrs. Ashley (the original flavor):

    "Obviously, she PURPOSEFULLY put the pickle jar on the WRONG shelf because she hates me."

    I loled. I am a chronic organizer, and I once organized my roomate's spice rack trying to do a nice thing for her. She was greiviously offended that I would imply that her storage methods were messy.

    Takes all kinds I guess. ^^;

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