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Racism, Tribalism, Classism - Prejudice without Substance

July 19th, 2010

My 60 year plus mother holds some very set view about certain sections of society that may have some basis in experience but most likely does not. Since she comes for the generation of the great –isms, I assumed that my siblings and I just brushed off these prejudices, sometimes with argument. Imagine my surprise when discussing a certain serious family issue with one of my siblings when they strongly expressed an opinion consistent with one of my mother’s which I know is not based in their experience.

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This got me thinking about some of the prejudices that haunt our societies today, things like racism, nationalism, tribalism and even classism. Wikipedia states that ‘a prejudice is a prejudgment: i.e. a preconceived belief, opinion, or judgment made without recourse to reason’ and that is generally true. I am not sure that all prejudices were originally without reason - historical reasons may have been the origin but that reason is lost when it no longer holds true.

Many times our prejudices appear to be passed to us by other people, our parents, our friends, our governments without the benefit of personal experience. We are also more likely to accept these opinions if they originate from one of us – a family member, a tribal member or some other member of a group that we belong to. The thing is that is one of the things that make us human, owing to our evolved communication and empathy skills, we do not have to experience unpleasant situations if someone else is in a position to relate that experience to us. That is how we learn.

We all know that small children over a certain age get upset if they are introduced into strange environments or to strange people, strange is anything substantially different from the norm – like a different skin colour! There must be an inherent fear of the unknown in all humans and that would make evolutionary sense. Until it is proven safe, we must fear it for it may be looking for dinner. Take that built in defence mechanism and add the prejudices of the group and we have what we have.

For that reason I believe everyone has some prejudices, even me. It is the people who take a chance and explore and challenge the prejudices – those who have relationships outside their race, class and tribe, those who travel to experience the world and her peoples that have an increased their potential of finding happiness, finding contentment. Many find friendship, many find love and many find their place in the sun.

Continuing to hold on to those –isms reduce your life options, hold you back from experiences that enrich life, maybe it is time to challenge them.

May you find the balance.

[First published on my Talking2Myself blog on specified date]