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Every Now and Then, Prejudice Slips Out

  • by
  • December 28, 2008
  • 12:50 pm
Every Now and Then, Prejudice Slips Out

When I heard about the racist music CD that Chip Saltsman, a contender for chair of the Republican National Committee, had distributed to fellow Republicans, I wasn’t surprised.  The CD contained a song entitled, “Barack the Magic Negro.”  I wasn’t surprised because prejudice, and specifically racial prejudice, is alive and well in this country, despite the election of the first black president.  Every now and then, it makes the news.  Mr. Saltsman hasn’t apologized for distributing the CD, but instead blamed Liberal Democrats and the media for paying more attention to his act than that of David Ehrenstein, who wrote a similarly named piece in the L.A. Times back in March.  A quick comparison of the two works shows a different intention in each.

We all have prejudices.  Psychology has shown this for some time.  We tend to prefer people who look like ourselves, rather than those who are different.  Evolutionary psychologists would say that this is actually an adaptive trait, because long ago in evolutionary time, members of different clans or tribes likely meant no good toward other clans or tribes.  So running away (at worst) or distrusting (at best) were natural mechanisms to assure your, and your group’s, survival.  Problem is, we have become a multiracial, multicultural, and multireligious world very quickly and some of the same mechanisms that were helpful in the past are no longer so helpful.

The roots of our prejudice are not biologic only; we also learn them as we grow up as well.  Our brains want to classify things in order to make more sense of them.  So, we naturally classify, or reduce the complexity of what is in our environment.  One example of this reduction of complexity is when we form a stereotype.  The bad thing about stereotypes is that we apply the stereotype to everyone who appears to fit that type, but in almost all cases, they are different, and sometimes very different, from the stereotype.  So, we make bad decisions based on an inaccurate stereotype.  Frequently, we learn how to classify and stereotype while growing up, so all of this starts very young.  Our parents, friends, teachers, church leaders, and others around us all have a part.

Racism, even latent racism such as this, is a part of “life” in many parts of the country.  Most people hide their prejudices and racism quite well–they generally have to because of social norms that frown upon explicit prejudice or discrimination.  This takes great effort, but every now and then, prejudices slips out.  The stronger your prejudices, the harder they are to control. 

Let’s face it–most people in this country deny they are racist, sexist, ageist, etc., but the evidence to the contrary is too strong.  If everyone were as non-prejudiced as they claim, then there would be no disparities in pay, quality of health care, access to good jobs, promotion potential for women, and so on.  All of these things generally rely upon individual decisions, where prejudice can play its part, unseen. 

I hope we take the great opportunity that has presented itself to us in the election of Barack Obama and work harder than ever to reduce the impact that prejudice plays in our lives.  Prejudices can be reduced to the point of non-importance, and I think this is a goal we can all work toward.

Resources: 
Understandingprejudice.org
TeachingTolerance.org

Reddy, M. T. (Ed.). (1996). Everyday Acts Against Racism: Raising Children in a Multiracial World. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Sniderman, P. M., & Carmines, E. G. (Ed.). (1997). Reaching Beyond Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Dr. Darrell Spurlock teaches nursing and psychology in Columbus, Ohio.

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6 comments

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7:53PM PST on Jan 7, 2009

Honestly, I think people are racist or prejudice because of fear. Fear makes us behave like animals. When threatened we attack the best way we know how. I don't think these sentiments simply slip out, they are wielded weapons un-sheathed when a person is threatened by things they do not understand. I can admit this now that I am more mature, and no longer ignorant. In the past I allowed my religious beliefs to affect my perception of gays and lesbians, whose plight is interestingly similar to the plight of the African decendants in this country. I allowed stories and stereotypes to shape my perceptions of people of other races. Now I know that that was a result of fear. I was afraid that outsiders of my race wanted to destroy me so I seperated myself from them...I was afraid that homosexuals were out to corrupt me and make me a homosexual. Fear caused this disturbance and engendered this immediate and unwarranted lashing out...but that's not right. There is a human element that binds us together, despite our differences. The sooner we all realize this, the less we can live in fear of one another and start making some real progress in securing America's place on the Global Platform of human rights. It takes an earnest attempt at rewiring what you have been taught to believe to achieve this. And it takes constant practice to change your beliefs. You have to get involved in it. However being racist is like being crazy, you don't know it. You must be shown.

1:41AM PST on Dec 31, 2008

Seems the dinosaurs are still alive and kicking, lets get rid of them once and for always. Some people never seem to grow.

12:05AM PST on Dec 31, 2008

Praying for the beautifully charasmatic Barack O'bama's safety + praying that he will make all his visions reality + thank God for his appointment that will have wonderful repurcusions on all the world not just in the USA .Agree wholeheartedly with Shannon M. Agree to some extent also with Natasha G. Yet, all racism at any level needs to be lambasted as it is totally unaceptable to belittle/act superior or supress any kinds of people based on just their colour or creed or both. We are all made equal in God's eyes + we are all equal to one another philosophically speaking, too. Am white, even though my colour is irrelevant as only white to look at yet we are all made up of many colours + varied backgrounds, yet have always had friends of all races from a very young age. Support Survival International, too. Sponsored a girl in Malawi for several years with Every Child as well. We need to stamp out any form of racism. When Barack Obama suceeded to become President Elect I cried with tears of joy- one of the happiest news events to happen in 2008- it was magical ;-) The base of racism is simple- fear( opposite of love)+ ignorance( opposite of knowledge). What is complex is tackling these 2 negative characters. Yet, tackle it we must. We must stand up to these characters- challenge them with a kind loving heart yet assertive nature. We must all be dynamic forces of love, education + ambasadors to all peoples- then who knows what sublime magic can happen :-) Hugs, Claire H

12:05AM PST on Dec 31, 2008

Praying for the beautifully charasmatic Barack O'bama's safety + praying that he will make all his visions reality + thank God for his appointment that will have wonderful repurcusions on all the world not just in the USA .Agree wholeheartedly with Shannon M. Agree to some extent also with Natasha G. Yet, all racism at any level needs to be lambasted as it is totally unaceptable to belittle/act superior or supress any kinds of people based on just their colour or creed or both. We are all made equal in God's eyes + we are all equal to one another philosophically speaking, too. Am white, even though my colour is irrelevant as only white to look at yet we are all made up of many colours + varied backgrounds, yet have always had friends of all races from a very young age. Support Survival International, too. Sponsored a girl in Malawi for several years with Every Child as well. We need to stamp out any form of racism. When Barack Obama suceeded to become President Elect I cried with tears of joy- one of the happiest news events to happen in 2008- it was magical ;-) The base of racism is simple- fear( opposite of love)+ ignorance( opposite of knowledge). What is complex is tackling these 2 negative characters. Yet, tackle it we must. We must stand up to these characters- challenge them with a kind loving heart yet assertive nature. We must all be dynamic forces of love, education + ambasadors to all peoples- then who knows what sublime magic can happen :-) Hugs, Claire H

8:55PM PST on Dec 30, 2008

accept all people,even with our diferences,god is love,and we should all love one another!

2:27PM PST on Dec 29, 2008

Racism is much more complex than “Barack the Magic Negro,” and its obliteration means more than electing an African American President. By not letting prejudices “slip out” you halt the discussion on race that needs to occur. In some ways overt racism is easier to deal with than the more subtle racism that pervades the country.

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