Prejudice

So, recently, someone made a comment within view of the public that attracted quite a bit of ire from the same.

“Just to bring it back, can we take back ‘racist’ and say, ‘discriminatory,’ because I think that’s a better word,” Raven-Symoné asked. “And I am very discriminatory against (names) like the ones that they were saying in the (video). I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.”

This comment was part of a larger conversation discussing the results of a study which demonstrated that people are more likely to associate a number of “negative” attributes to ideas of people with “black” sounding names.

Comment
Study

At its core, this is an interesting demonstration of prejudice. There is nothing about a name that should give any indication of the personality, or physical attributes of a person. However, there is something in our environment, our experiences, that has contributed to this association.

Prejudice is based on the idea that you can experience something once, and then extrapolate that experience to predict the result of future occurrences. It is something that is (apparently) inherent in our organism, and exists because it is incredible useful to us.

As a child, if you see something bright, and touch it, only to find that it causes you pain because it is burning you, you might have less desire to touch something bright again. Prejudice can contribute to survival.

However, like anything else in the world (a demonstration of my own prejudice), it has pitfalls.

If you’ve studied statistics, or done anything else in life, you probably know that nothing is consistent. A single experience is not a good sample size for making any kind of predictions with accuracy.

For example, I have eaten a lot of Pizzas. Nearly all of them are delicious, and a great experience. However, a few have been delicious, and terrible experiences, still others have been not tasty, and mediocre experiences. If my only (first) experience with Pizza was a terrible one, prejudice would lead me to never try pizza again. Why would I if pizza wasn’t good for me, or enjoyable? However, as you know, through your own experience, my first, terrible experience, is not indicative of the experience that pizzas usually provide. If I based my entire life on that single experience, I would be missing out on quite a lot of good.

Sometimes, relying on a single experience doesn’t have many terrible consequences for you, or others. If you go to a restaurant, and your experience there is not enjoyable, you may be likely to not spend your time trying it again. There are hundreds of restaurants in your area, what is your incentive to go back? Not doing so probably won’t seriously detract from the quality of your life.

However, I think it is important, for us, as creatures that are generally capable of critical thought, to try and re-consider our prejudices whenever we can, and to put a bit more care into ensuring that our prejudices don’t hurt others.

When considering your child’s friends, try not to associate qualities that haven’t been observed. Just because you had a bully named Frank as a child, doesn’t mean that your child shouldn’t be encouraged to hang out with a Frank at school. If your daughter starts talking a young man named Dan, that doesn’t mean that he will get her pregnant, and try to steal your toaster.

As long as there are humans, there will be trends within different groups of us. People from France will probably speak french. People with an Asian genetic background will probably have naturally straight and black hair. Someone named Watermelondrea may have dark skin. Extrapolations aren’t inherently bad, it is just in our interest to try and give thought to what decisions they make for us.