How Predjudice can be deadly:
It’s a perfectly normal thing. Humans discriminate. Sometimes it’s even necessary. If you discover a mysterious beverage in your refrigerator with an intriguing yellowish-white hue but after a preliminary inspection you determine that it smells like it should be in the toilet, rather than in the kitchen… you probably won’t drink it.
You’re right to judge it and reject it… even though you might regret throwing it away when your husband tells you it was a vegetable smoothie he’d wanted you to try. If it smelled like it belonged in the toilet, it had probably gone bad.
The problem is that judging humans is never that quick and easy – or at least, it shouldn’t be.
I’ve decided to tackle this in a stream-of-thought style blog post because, honestly, I’m fed up. This post has no pictures. No funny memes. No links to fun products. It’s serious and it’s heartfelt. But it will look boring. Please read to the end anyway…
Too often, we treat people the way we treat smelly refrigerator goo; we think that after one whiff, we know everything we need to know about them.
Prejudice: A preconception which is not based on reason or experience.
Last year a friend made some hurtful, ignorant statements to me and I couldn’t respond because I was dumbstruck. Plus, I knew that her intentions were innocent; she had NO IDEA how misguided she was. I’ve heard members of my own family say things that broke my heart – that made me realise that even nice, normal, intelligent people can fail the test of empathy with other humans.
Why is it that we can’t seem to give humans the benefit of the doubt?
That guy staggering down the street at 3am? He’s drunk. The girl you see at the grocery store in full nightclub attire and smudged makeup at 9am on Sunday morning? She must have hooked up with someone last night. The woman buying the big-wheeler for her noisy, spoiled, tantrum-throwing toddler? She spoils that child. My kid would have MUCH better manners.
We have public figures that utter bigoted, misogynistic comments due to prejudice. If you’re in Trinidad and Tobago, you know what I’m talking about… But we don’t have the monopoly on this, as I’m sure my friends in the US and the UK would agree.
We’ve got kids who are bullied and harassed, some who go as far as taking their own lives due to prejudice.
I myself have lost a job due to prejudice.
Police officers kill innocent men in the States due to prejudice.
Just a couple months ago, I lost a family member due to prejudice. He’d gone into a hospital for emergency care. The staff took one look at him and basically ignored him. They had judged him without having the vaguest notion of who he was.
Yet still I do it. So do you. If nobody is willing to own up to it, people will keep doing it and people will keep suffering.
If you scroll up through this post, you’ll find examples of scenarios in which we automatically judge people based on what we see. I challenge you now to re-imagine these scenarios and try to give these people the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s my attempt:
The staggering guy just got mugged. He’s hurt and needs help fast.
The girl left the nightclub in a rush at 1am when she heard her dad had been hospitalised. She waited at the hospital all night before she got any news from his doctors. He’ll be ok! She’s buying some of his favourite treats now so she can sneak him some at the hospital.
The over-indulgent mother is a single parent who hasn’t slept in two days. The babysitter wasn’t available, so she had to take her toddler along with her as she ran errands today. He’s tired now; she knows he’s only this cranky when he needs a nap. Still, she’ll buy him the toy he wants and hope he’ll be quiet for a while because she sees the judgement in your eyes and it’s more than she can deal with right now.
Okay… so maybe my imagination tends toward the melodramatic. lol
What alternative explanations can you come up with? I’d love to hear! Also, let me know if you’ve had an experience of discrimination and how you dealt with it….
Most importantly though, I challenge you to move forward and flex your empathy muscle every day.
Even for the people who don’t seem to deserve it. Especially for the people who don’t seem to deserve it.