1.1. Introduction (This Post)
1.2. The Inertia of Prejudice: A Matter of Hierarchies and Identity
1.3. Why We Tend to Apply Hierarchical Thinking to Our Identities
1.4. How to Fight Social Prejudice and Make the Results Stick (Coming Soon)
Prejudice is not merely someone’s opinion.
The dictionary defines “prejudice” as “an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination or the facts.”
That definition isn’t wrong and it’s very appropriate for a dictionary. But when we look at such a concept through such sterile eyes and dismiss prejudice as “just someone’s opinion”, we tend to forget the weight and the power of the concept of prejudice. We tend to forget just how these prejudices influence almost everything about the society we live in, regardless of what social or economic group we are a part of. While some people get the better end of deal in some cases, other people are not so fortunate. The only hint at this connotation is the word ‘adverse’.
One of my very first articles (which I’m going to update and revise at some point, because my views have changed slightly in the past 2 years) was on stereotypes. I defined a stereotype as a widely proliferated conclusion about a group of people based on limited observation or exposure. I also talked a bit about how stereotypes as I defined them are not necessarily negative by themselves because their initial formation is based on a reaction to the presence of uncertainty. Rather it is how they are handled that does damage. The tendency to not recognize the poor quality of the information provided by a stereotype and using it as a basis for decisions, thereby proliferating it and sometimes turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy is the truly negative component.
So why am I writing this article? How is a prejudice different from a stereotype?
I see prejudice as a stereotype’s ugly evolution. It’s the nasty, more potent version that comes into existence when a stereotype takes on distinct Hierarchical characteristics and has been accepted as ‘common knowledge’ by large groups of people to the point that they start to base their self-identity off of it. It’s what a stereotype becomes when it is systematically used to enforce a particular power structure and make decisions about how to shape the social, cultural, and economic environment. In more informal terms, a prejudice is a stereotype hopped up on illegal steroids with a hot temper that also has the ear of the social elite.
For example, a stereotype would be along the lines of “Gay men are feminine”. A prejudice would be more along the lines of “Gay men are feminine and they don’t deserve to be considered as people because of it”. The latter is much stronger, much more hostile, and has a hierarchical connotation. Granted, there are stereotypes that almost automatically lend themselves to prejudices due to the perception of whatever culture dominates the environment where the corresponding observation was made.
A prejudice isn’t just an opinion. It’s a powerful motive force for social, cultural, and economic trends in society. On a more personal level, it can have powerful effects on how a person evaluates themselves, how they plan their lives, and how they develop their outlook. I’m not one to speculate on whether prejudice as a whole concept will ever ‘go away’, so to speak. What I can do, however, is to try and understand why prejudices form, what gives them such large inertia in our society, and provide some discussion or insight regarding what I feel to be the nature of prejudice. Fleshing out this understanding can hopefully enable us as individuals and collectively as a society to be more effective at fighting or changing these prejudices for the better.
That’s the idea, anyway. Let’s get to it.