Prejudice is pervasive and poisonous. It is defined as “dislike, hostility or unjust behaviour arising from preconceived and unfounded opinions” (Oxford Dictionary). Prejudice comes in many forms — religious; racial or ethnic; gender; and class.
Prejudice has two elements. The first is ignorance. We are willing to entertain and believe certain things about others based not on fact, but on uninformed opinion. One might have thought that in this ‘Information Age’ it would be easy to overcome ignorance because information is so readily accessible. Instead, the age of the Internet and Google has also brought ‘fake news’ and the need for ‘fact-checking’. Human beings can be very gullible and this has less to do with intelligence than with the psychological convenience of stereotyping and the lack of critical thinking.
The second element of prejudice is the inclination or desire to harm the objects of our prejudice. We see this every day, everywhere. Muslims are profiled and abused. Blacks in the United States are discriminated against, brutalised, disproportionaately incarcerated, and stopped and even killed by police officers. Whites in the United States are now claiming that affirmative action policies by colleges and universities to promote more diverse student populations discriminate against them.
Oppressive behaviour toward some ethnic or religious groups is no less harmful for being exercised through the political or judicial process. Historically, the colonial elite here in Trinidad used legislation and force to oppress the non-white, African and Indian populations denying some access to land, and fostering ideas of ethnic superiority through the education system. Discrimination against women and homosexuals was institutionalised in law. The feelings of oppression and alienation are still pervasive today and help to explain the reaction to the comments of a businessman of Syrian-Lebanese descent on a television programme broadcast internationally which provoked a firestorm in both the social and mainstream media and has prompted threats of reprisal through boycott.
In order to overcome prejudice, we have to act on several fronts. We have to dispel ignorance about the culture and lifestyles of other peoples through education and interaction. But we have to go beyond that to cultivate genuine respect for their various ways of life and bring ourselves to the celebration of the value of diversity. The integrity and wholeness of nature itself, God’s creation, is reflected in and indeed held together by its diversity. We also have to disapprove and take action against discrimination and injustice wherever we see it, whether in the laws on our books or in the conduct of those around us: our politicians, business leaders, and managers in the workplace. Where we are the victims of prejudice, we need to forgive those who trespass against us.