03 November, 2007

Connotations of "Prejudice"

It's interesting that even in a school like Temple, the "Diversity University," there is still so much prejudice, and we don't always recognize it. I'm not saying I don't have my own personal prejudices - anyone who tells you, "I'm not prejudice / racist / etc." is clearly lying. I don't think anyone in this world is 100% free of prejudice. When we first meet someone we already begin to form an opinion about them based on previous experiences with people that look/talk/act like them.

Not all prejudice is a bad thing and it helps us get through our daily lives; however, there is an obvious negative connotation to the word which makes most people deny their own prejudices. It's something I experienced firsthand at Lehigh, and am now beginning to notice at Temple as well.

The other day a fellow student described someone as "North Philly Trash." That someone happened to be a very dear friend of mine. Offended? Yes. Surprised? A little, but I guess I shouldn't have been. Another student described an experience on an airplane when he was placed next to a Middle-Eastern man. "Now I'm not prejudice, but," (of course "but") "this guy smelled bad, was wearing (etc., etc.) ... and he started to look shift through his bag, for a long time. So I'm sitting there like, omg what is this guy doing? ... Eventually he just pulled out an iPod." My classmate should have learned a lesson here. But probably not the right one.

I don't exactly blame my classmate for his reaction on the plane, but there's no denying it was racist. The lesson I wish my classmate would have learned, is that his actions were motivated by racism. His tension on the plane, his fear (again, not necessarily "wrong" responses, actually a fairly normal human instinct to sense danger, which is necessary for survival) were actions motivated by a stereotype, a prejudice, in this case racism.

Failing to recognize when your actions are being motivated by personal prejudices, you may miss out things: an intellectual conversation, a new perspective, a good friend, or a wonderful relationship. It's so unfortunate that we have been trained to say "I'm not prejudice, but" to avoid criticism. I have a lot more respect for people who say, "I know I'm being prejudice, but" than people who don't recognize this in themselves and think that the world won't either.

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