Jay M. Brown
We appear to be living in a Stone Age, according to Gordon Allport, when we examine human relationships. We have gained notable mastery over energy, matter, and inanimate nature generally, and are rapidly learning to control physical suffering and premature death, but with all our modern technological advances we still have been unable to overcome the prejudice of human beings towards other human beings.
The problem of the twentieth century, as W. E. DuBois has stated, is the problem of the color line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America, and in the islands of all the oceans.
Thus the achievement of good relations between different racial and ethnic groups continues to be a major problem of our times; the lack of good relations undermines our national unity. There exists, as Gunnar Myrdal has pointed out, a gulf between the American ideals of democracy and brotherhood on the one hand, and the reality of racial prejudice and segregation on the other. The essential dignity of the human personality, the equality of man, and the rights to freedom, justice, and equal opportunity emphasized in the American creed are cruelly contradicted by discrimination against individuals because of their race, religion, or nationality.
In every society prejudice has existed and has not been restricted to any one group, minority or majority. Although the major concentration of this unit will deal with racial and religious prejudice, students will be made aware that other types of prejudice are also common. An individual can be biased towards another person’s appearance, their sex, their behavior, or non-conforming beliefs.
Derived from the Latin noun
, the modern word “prejudice” has undergone many semantic changes. Originally prejudice meant pre-judgment, but it also implies misjudgment.
Since it is learned in childhood, prejudice cannot be overcome through a series of classroom lessons. As prejudice is instilled in an individual in childhood and reinforced by his environment, an educational experience can only hope to assist students in understanding how prejudicial attitudes develop and why they develop, and offer some insight into each person’s own prejudice.
From the earliest colonial settlement, in Virginia, to modern times, our nation has been comprised of individuals and groups with varied cultural backgrounds. These cultural differences have helped America grow and mature. Students should be made aware of these differences and should understand that an individual’s pride in his own group or own heritage is not, in the sociological sense, prejudice.
Prejudice may be either negative or positive, for it is a feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, not based on, actual experience.
Prejudice undermines our national unity as well as that of other nations. Students will learn that we pay for our prejudices with human happiness, because intolerance leads to fear. Students will learn that, in the world, prejudice is a problem and that various levels of prejudice exist, such as:
Prejudice which is merely an opinion, not given outwardly hostile expression either in word or conduct towards members of a particular group, but which consists in the conscious effort to avoid contact with members of that group.
Prejudice which consists of an opinion expressed outwardly in relations with members of a disliked group, such as showing a cold attitude toward them. Here there is a mild expression of antipathy, dislike, or devaluation, but no discriminatory act or legal infraction occurs.
Prejudice which is a form of social discrimination, as for example, intentionally and manifestly avoiding any social contact with members of the disliked group, but does not go so far as to deny legal rights to the members of a disliked group.
Prejudice which expresses itself in discriminatory acts, denying legal rights to individuals belonging to a group discriminated against.
Prejudice which consists not only in discriminatory behavior, but goes further and gives rise to propaganda that promotes further discrimination. This propaganda may be confined to certain private circles or it may develop into public manifestations, such as speeches or written incitements to acts of discrimination.
Prejudice which expresses itself in acts of violence against the members of a group, acts committed either by an individual or by a group of individuals. These acts may also be committed or tolerated by public authorities.
An individual’s prejudice is a product of his own frustration and personality needs. His relationships with those around him may strongly influence his attitude and behavior towards members of other groups. Prejudice appears to be economically, socially, and politically advantageous to more privileged groups. It enhances and reinforces the position of the dominant majority. An individual’s prejudice may serve to build up a person’s self-esteem, alleviate guilt feelings, or provide an outlet for an individual’s aggression.
A person who possesses racial prejudice is one who judges individuals, groups, or another race not on the basis of experience, but in advance of any direct experience. He believes that other races are inferior to one’s own, that other races have inferior intelligence, that racial intermixture would develop offspring biologically weaker or disproportioned in bodily structure, and that certain races lack drive and ambition and do not have the same aspirations as others.
John Dewey has stated that the basis of race prejudice is instinctive dislike and dread of what is strange. Negative attitudes tend to be expressed, by an individual or group, in action. Few keep their antipathies entirely to themselves. The more intense the attitude, the more likely it results in hostile action. Participants in classes will begin to understand that human beings act out their prejudice in various ways—from very mild (antilocution) to the ultimate degree of violent expression (extermination).
The United States is the greatest crossroads of the world in history. People have come here from every race and nation and brought with them a unique cultural contribution to the character of America.
Without the hand skills of the early immigrants, American industry would not have developed as fast as it did. Our music and our buildings have developed from patterns from every quarter of the world. Our country would be poorer in every phase of its culture if different cultures had not come together here, sharing and learning the special contributions each had to offer.
Through class discussions an attempt will be made to convey the fact that race, religion, and nationality do not make one person superior or inferior to another, and we will try to show how fear and ignorance brings about prejudice.
To show that prejudices influence our different senses of sight, hearing, and speech, students will participate in a “Rumor Clinic.” The clinic will reveal how prejudices change and distort what we see and hear.
Because prejudices can be expressed orally and visually, students will be given a mass media assignment in an effort to help them understand, and be able to clarify, the value conflicts reflected in the many incidents of prejudice and discrimination shown on television and expressed on radio or written in the daily newspaper.
To demonstrate that race, religion, and nationality do not make one person superior or inferior to another, but that each person has something unique to contribute to society, students will be given a written assignment in which they assume the role of an individual from another group. The completion of this assignment should assist the student in developing empathy with others.
Many of our history textbooks are guilty of slights and slurs against minorities with half-truths, omissions, and supremacy myths. By examining various textbooks, students will develop the awareness that written words are not always true or unprejudicial.
During our lifetimes, in dealing with other individuals, we use oral expressions more than written words. Through a word association test students will begin to understand various stereotyped words, what stereotyping is, and how it affects one individual’s perception of, and behavior towards, another.
Students will also participate in oral, written, and dramatic exercises that will permit them to examine each other’s views and experiences on sex-role stereotyping.
Although this unit cannot fully overcome prejudicial attitudes of the participants, it is hoped that students will begin to realize why people are different, to grasp why they feel the way they do about others, to understand their and others’ uniqueness, and to learn to tolerate each other’s differences.