Prejudice is like bad breath. We like to think we don’t have it, but we all do. At least, from time to time.
With bad breath, we can brush our teeth. Or pop in a mint.
If only it was that easy with prejudice.
When it comes to preconceived notions about other people, how do we know we have them?
And what’s the best way to overcome prejudice once we realize it’s there?
The other day, I was out for a drive with Melissa. We were about to get on the freeway, and I pulled the car into a left-hand turn lane.
All of a sudden, another car barreled in front of us. We were the second car in the lane, and the offending vehicle jammed its way into the tiny space between us and the car in front of us.
I was shocked.
What kind of driver pulls in front of someone like that? How much of a hurry are they in? Don’t they know how dangerous it is to force their way into position like that? Who do they think they are?
Actually, I had a good idea of exactly who they were.
When it comes to aggressive drivers on the road, I have a clear and defined prejudice:
Young. White. Males.
No, not every aggressive driver I encounter on the road is a young white male. But a vast majority of them seem to be. Which confirms my preconceived – and prejudiced – notion.
Do I notice the young white male drivers who obey all the rules of the road?
I do not.
Do I recognize that youth, whiteness and maleness do not, in and of themselves, make someone an aggressive driver?
Theoretically. But not enough to erase my prejudice.
Once Melissa and I had pulled onto the freeway, I made sure to check out the driver who had barreled in front of us. After all, I had a prejudice to support.
And what did I find?
Not so much.
In fact, the driver of the offending vehicle appeared to be Hawaiian. Of course, I wasn’t able to confirm his Hawaiian heritage with a drive-by glance. But of all the different ethnicities, that’s the one he most resembled.
Plus, the back of his vehicle had several Hawaiian stickers on it.
This discovery prompted Melissa to make an observation. She’s spent a lot of time in Hawaii, and she informed me that the drivers there are a unique breed.
Hawaiian drivers, apparently, tend to pull into traffic if there is any space at all to do so. Melissa’s theory behind this tendency is that they assume you’re not in a hurry – you’re in Hawaii, after all – so you’ll slow down to let them in.
Suddenly, the behavior of the offending driver looked completely different to me.
He hadn’t been aggressively vying for a spot. He was simply pulling his vehicle into an empty space. He assumed I was a chillaxed driver who had no problem letting him in.
But I was not a chillaxed driver.
Instead, I was an angry, prejudiced Goofball who was making up all kinds of stories about his motives and racial profile.
And, truth be told, I was still making up stories about him. Was he really Hawaiian? And, even if he was, what were his motivations for pulling in front of me?
I had no idea.
But it was interesting to note that the story I was telling after I found out he was presumably Hawaiian made me feel better than the one I had been telling before.
Which brings me to the question of this post:
How do we overcome the power of prejudice?
For the scholarly among us, there are some great resources. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? is one book I highly recommend. There’s also Understanding and Dismantling Racism, by Joseph Barndt. And Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, by Adams, Blumenfeld et al.
As for our day-to-day life, what can we do?
Well, we can make a practice of being on the lookout for our own prejudiced views and biases.
Not being aware of our prejudice is the biggest deterrent to its removal.
Like it or not, we all have prejudice inside us. The trick is to allow it to come forth so we can challenge its faulty assumptions.
Once we’ve uncovered these assumptions, we can ask ourselves: How does the story I’m telling about [fill in the blank] make me feel?
If it’s making us feel bad, we’re not seeing that person – or group of people – with the eyes of love. We’re not seeing them as the Divine sees them.
In other words, we’re not seeing the truth.
This is our chance to tell a different story!
My encounter with the presumably Hawaiian driver laid bare my assumptions not only about young white males, but my assumptions about everything I see.
I can make up stories all day long. Some make me feel good, and some make me feel bad. The feeling tone tells me which perceptions are in alignment with the Divine.
And which aren’t.
In the case of prejudice, it’s never in alignment with the Divine.
And that’s reason enough to root it out. To bring it into awareness. And to gently, lovingly, let it go.
There’s one more thing I discovered during my little driving adventure:
If I pull out in front of people unexpectedly, it gives them the chance to practice their chillaxed driving skills.
Plus it challenges their assumptions about transgender woo-woo Goofballs.
Just doing my part to make the world a better place!
How have you overcome the power of prejudice? Share your comments below!