In my view, the unfortunate reality is that prejudice is something of a reflex within humanity, and one not likely to be significantly weakened in the future. Equally harmful is that prejudice inevitably leads to discrimination, which I see as the practical extension of bias. When the race, gender, faith, orientation, or physical being of an individual triggers prejudice, it usually follows that the victim of it is denied any number of opportunities, and even rights, by those perceiving them as inferior. We all know the extremes of such prejudice, with no greater form of it to be seen than in the long centuries of slave trade. Importantly, however, slavery, which essentially exists as bias so extreme, the natural rights of being human are ignored, was not confined to the American South prior to the Civil War. Many nations practiced slavery within many eras, and well into the 19th century slavery was widely practiced by the British and French in their African territories (Allain 96). It is then plain to me that prejudice, as demonstrated by this extreme form, has always been ingrained in human cultures.
As prejudice generates discrimination, the effects on the workplace are virtually inestimable. They range from relatively mild insults overheard from peers to sexual harassment and a refusal to hire based on bias. Laws are in place to address this, but the reality is that employers may often simply offer another excuse to not hire and discriminate, one not suggesting prejudice. What must occur in any such situation, from the mild to the aggressively prejudiced, is that the workplace is hostile and fragmented. Ironically, even those exercising the power to practice prejudice are then negatively affected, for they create conflict within their own work environments. The consequences of the “targets” are, of course, usually worse, as they must try to function in a space that essentially degrades them. This is as true of the woman who, in order to keep her job, must endure inappropriate remarks as it is of the handicapped person who is aware of resentment regarding their special needs. The common factor of bias, in that these individuals are perceived as stereotypes, must erode the integrity and functioning of the workplace to a vast degree, apart from the unethical abuse it represents.
An enormous problem in addressing discrimination, particularly in the workplace, lies in how it is often generated by motives not necessarily hateful. More exactly, and as research clearly supports, people at work tend to feel more comfortable with others similar to them, or their “ingroup.” There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it also promotes a blatant neglect of others perceived as not belonging, and a neglect that may often evolve into outright – and expressed – bias (Nielson, Nelson 59). It also seems that this same equation is in place socially; clearly, the desire to be within a group where belief systems are shared must influence people in all they do, from the job to the personal life. I then feel all the more strongly that prejudice is very much a part of the human experience, simply because it arises from such a relatively “innocent” cause.
This being the case, I also believe that prejudice is not decreasing or increasing. That is, I am more inclined to see it as consistently occurring wherever and whenever the thinking and behavior of others sets it in place. More exactly, given its nature as a human reflex, it is not subject to changes in cultures or eras. If there is an exception to this, it is how more forcefully it appears when conditions enhance the human impulse for the ingroup. Civilized nations like to believe that today’s cross-cultural world vastly enables more enlightened thinking and acceptance of differences, but the reality is not so favorable. This is powerfully brought home by Western, and particularly American, responses to the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. In the years following the admittedly traumatic attacks, it seems as though American culture actually embraced racism, provided it was directed against Muslims. Senators and representative of Congress openly made frequent remarks inciting prejudice. Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina referred to Arab Americans as the sole population running convenience stores in the nation. Georgia’s Senator Chambliss urged every state trooper to arrest all Muslims who cross the state line (Chin 77). It may be argued that the extreme reactions were due to the extreme conditions of the time, but this is not valid because, in plain terms, nothing excuses a blanket assessment of a population that ignores individual realities. Then, and perhaps worse, the climate of anti-Muslim feeling perpetuated itself because those inclined to be prejudiced enjoyed all the greater support.
The question, of course, arises: how can prejudice and discrimination be lessened or eliminated? My conviction that they are a fixed part of humanity aside, I concede that we can identify causes, which may help in reducing these harmful elements. Certainly, some measure of denial is responsible for prejudice. More exactly, when people are unwilling to take responsibility for failures in their own lives, they are more inclined to seek external explanations, and bias is very much there to help accomplish this. In plain terms, the individual is then enabled to identify a cause outside of themselves; they are not succeeding because another population is being unjustly favored (Barnes 71). There is as well the force of fear; when confronted by the different, people tend to all the more turn to the known because they feel threatened, no matter that no real threat is evident or likely. A sense of threat essentially justifies any response, so fear is a significant consideration here. These major influences noted, however, I remain firm in my belief that prejudice will exist. Sadly, human beings, particularly existing in societies as virtually all do, are simply too enabled to perceive fear and generate denial for it not to be a reflex. The society is a structure, and one that assigns meaning to each person within it. With this meaning come senses of responsibility, expectation, and ownership, and these are things so crucial, fear and denial are at the ready to address any threats to the identity they compose. Put another way, and more plainly, prejudice is a condition of humanity because human beings are subject to weaknesses, and not evolved enough to fully take on the greater responsibility of being open to the variations within humanity that have always existed, and of which, ironically, they themselves are a part.
- Allain, J. The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
- Barnes, S. L. Subverting the Power of Prejudice: Resources for Individual and Social Change. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. Print.
- Chin, J. L. The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination: Racisim in America. Wesport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. Print.
- Nielson, L. B., & Nelson, R. L. Handbook of Employment Discrimination Research: Rights and Realities. New York: Springer, 2008. Print.