01 March 2010

Prejudice -- inherent and learned?

By Nicole E. Avery

GVL Columnist

This term at Grand Valley State University, I'm taking a class called Social Class Inequality. It's a tough one. The topics are controversial and the ideas are hard to grasp, let alone swallow. I like the class though because it makes me think.

This week we signed up for group projects in pairs and picked from a list different topics. Each topic had two main arguable positions. Many of them caught my eye, but one in particular got my wheels turning: prejudice.

You're thinking to yourself that of course it was. Ideologies of racism and prejudice are at the top of controversial subjects you do not want to bring up at dinner when you're meeting someone's parents.

What intrigued me about prejudice and racism being one of the topics was the two arguable points attached with it -- A: learned and B: human nature. When you're beginning to unpack this loaded gun of an idea, you must first acknowledge that they are two separate branches of the same tree -- they are not the same. Prejudice isn't limited to the confines of race whereas racism is by definition. Ironically enough, even if they are not the same, prejudice can and does lead to racism.

No one would argue racism is not learned by some people. A racist father can lead to racist sons and grandchildren but everything can be counteracted by choice. If the daughter of a racist mother decides she does not agree with the ideologies of her family, she breaks that cycle of thought by exhibiting her free will to not think the way her parents have taught her to think.

What is even more interesting is the idea that prejudice is a part of human nature, and I would agree with that argument wholeheartedly.

From the moment we are born and begin to learn, we are socialized to categorize things.

As children we are trained to match colors and taught the ability to pick out the object from a group of that doesn't belong.

Children are thought beautiful when they resemble their parents and teased that they are adopted when they do not.

Everyone thinks their grandma's cooking is the best even when it isn't and every American proudly brags about their non-American heritage.

There seems to be an innate human need to find meaning in everything and that leads to over-categorizing even the simplest things. Even a silverware drawer is grouped by like objects.

Of course these things aren't bad alone but when they are combined with pride, somehow they get distorted into reasons of why X human is better than Y human or why this quality is better than that and these ideas snowball into full-blown prejudices and racism.

Is it really a stretch from wanting to be in a particular high school group to wanting elevated social status to then thinking you're better than an immigrant or someone who is poor?

No, when you think about it this way it actually make a lot of sense and shows how we are our own worst enemies.


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