I’ve been having trouble deciding whether there has been a sudden uproar of prejudice and discrimination in the United States, or whether I am just now paying attention to it. This issue seems insignificant when one begins to think of how to eradicate discrimination. I am inclined to say that it is simply a part of human nature on all levels, but when we further understand the roots of discrimination the more we can work chisel away at it to its lowest forms.
I’ve noticed one feature in every discriminatory person I’ve met: ignorance. It is the lack of understanding something that brews prejudice and discrimination.
This is a very crude example but it is revealing. If you ask a student in High School what subject he loathes the most, maybe he’ll say math. If you ask him why he loathes math he’ll say that it is difficult and he doesn’t understand it. So every year when he is renewed for another math class, he will decide he already doesn’t like it before he even goes to the class. Even if it is drastically changing subjects, such as going from algebra to geometry, he will still dislike it on the principle that it is math. So it is clear that it his misunderstanding that breeds his dislike for it.
Again going with the school example, because school is a valuable scenario to make sociological observations. If a student enrolls in a new class he’s never experienced, he may go in with a relatively open mind to what it will be like. But if a friend of his tells him that the class is awful then the student will go in looking for the bad things he was prepared for and may not notice the good things. Now, depending on how dear of a friend he is, the student may go in looking for the good things about the class to prove the friend wrong. But this depends on the relationship between the two.
Now, if a boy is raised by his parents and he is told every day that “blacks are inferior” then he may be inclined to agree. If he loves and trusts his parents enough he will agree with their word that blacks are inferior. It is much easier to take the opinions of others than it is to form opinions yourself. He could not even have any experience with black people, but he doesn’t need to have made up his mind because it was already made up by his parents.
So in another case a boy raised his parents is told every day that “blacks are inferior,” but if the boy dislikes his parents then he may disagree with him. He doesn’t have as much reason to blindly trust their word. And if the boy were to spend some genuine time with black people then he would realize just how wrong his parents were.
Here’s the portion where I get political. If a close-minded person goes through his entire life without knowing any homosexuals, he will likely dislike them. For he doesn’t know any, and he doesn’t understand what they do or why they do it, so naturally he dislikes the idea. Humans are afraid and dislike what they do not understand. A truly open-minded person is one who accepts that there will always be things he doesn’t understand, but then has the decency to say there is a reason for their doing. The open minded person, even if he hasn’t met any gay people, will accept that others are homosexual and accepts he will not understand why. He does not allow ignorance to brew hatred as long as he knows he is ignorant.
This also explains the discrimination of new ideas and the keenness of the reactionary point of view. If a new scientific study comes out that challenges everything the normal person knows, many will be inclined to deny it. For maybe they do not understand, and maybe they do not wish to understand because they are quite comfortable with what they have already been told. They do not understand the new information being told so it is much more convenient to deny it and go on with their lives. An open minded person that has accepted his ignorance may look at the new science with eagerness and readiness to give up what he already has been told. He may even strive to learn what he does not know.
The willingness to accept your ignorance is the best way to learn. This virtue was taught as far back as Apology, Plato’s famous account of the court trial of Socrates. Using this knowledge we can begin to observe the roots of prejudice comes from a lack of understanding.
So then, knowing this how can we begin to eradicate discrimination? Well, the first thing to do is to provide a proper education to children. Teach them it is better to admit how much you don’t know rather than flaunt how much you do know. Because then you have opened the door for them to go out and teach themselves. For parents I would encourage to do the same. Reading to kids has been proven to increase empathy, I would greatly encourage this as well. Expose your children to the world, but then teach them and guide them about it. Too many kids are left to guide themselves, and again this leads to a lack of understanding where discrimination comes from.
Lastly, if you meet a person who is discriminatory, challenge them. Challenge what they know. Don’t be afraid to question them and cause them to question themselves. Depending on how open they are, they may change to the slightest, or they might not change at all. But at least you would have taught them a lesson.