I am prejudiced and, unless you’re not human, you are as well.
Prejudice is a word that feels awkward and dirty; like a toxic plant we passively acknowledge it but always walk around, continuing on our way.
Our brains categorize everything in our world, including faces, in order to respond to them as quickly as 100 milliseconds. The kaleidoscopic collage of people, objects and ideas are simplified into categories to make the world possible to understand and interact with.
We prejudge to make some sense of it all. It’s a hard job and our brains make an accumulation of mistakes in the congestion of life. Our prejudices, when internalized enough, will happen unconsciously, to the point we don’t realize we are influenced by them.
Prejudices are thoughts that can turn into the negative, mentally harming actions of discrimination and stereotyping.
A few negative types of prejudices which have coevolved with our social system are racism, homophobia, sexism, nationalism and xenophobia. Xenophobia, or dislike of people from other countries, has become a particularly ugly form of government policy in the USA.
Our government, police and others officials have recently admitted our system is still polluted with forms of discrimination. What is meant by systematic discrimination and how do we disable the engine that drives this antiquated way of doing things?
By definition a system is a “group or combination interrelated, interacting or interdependent elements forming a collective entity.”
Servitude of forcefully removed African people by the British Empire was stopped in 1833 by the Slavery Abolition Act. In 1863, three-quarters of American states created laws to reluctantly end slavery. It wasn’t until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act banned segregation in public and schools, but discrimination in voters’ rights for African Americans continued, and still continues.
Women were finally allowed to vote in Canada (1917) and in the United States (1920).
In the 1950s and 1960s, Canada enacted a series of child welfare policies which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes and communities and, eventually, adopted out to white families across Canada.
Same-sex couples were finally able to express their love for each other legally in Canada in 2005.
These are the parts which linger in our current system.
Our social system didn’t magically unlearn hundreds of years of slavery or discrimination against African Americans in 1964. Prejudice against women’s rights didn’t screech to a halt in 1917 with their right to cast a ballot. Indigenous people still feel trauma, as a culture, from the Sixties Scoop and LGBT students are still made to feel shame in a lot of the world.
The system which has, for hundreds of years, discriminated and disenfranchised so many, hasn’t totally shed that old, parasite-ridden skin.
Is there a fix for a broken system with roots clinging to old prejudices and stereotypes?
Our minds, which desire categories and subcategories to simplify a complex world, can, consciously and collectively, begin to stop needing to separate people. With exposure to each other and integration of our lives, our brains can leave us with only one category: Humans.
Robert Skender is a Powell River freelance writer and health commentator.