Prejudice: Is It So Bad?

In this hysterical video, and this great follow-up video, the actors bring to light how quick we are, even when seeming to be liberal, to put people into entire categories of their interests based on the shape of their eyes or color of skin. Then again, the second video makes fun of the first and calls into question how mean the video is to the white guy. Lots of amusing mixed messages here that I urge you to study here. You will certainly see  yourself in one form or the other.

In many ways, the fun poked in this video could only make sense in a country of immigrants like America. It is still after all a grand experiment in putting dozens of ancestries together and saying, ‘here, make a coexisting democracy’. The experiment is still an awesome one and has implications for the future of a planet where diverse human families and clans are mixing as never before in history. 

What are the rules of this mixing? What is prejudice, and what is an innocent inquiry or question? How do you even begin to talk to strangers, and is there any way to inquire into backgrounds and origins without offending? Do we really want a bland set of conversations where out of politeness you never ask about family origins? 

Hans Gadamer, a complicated German philosopher, had an interesting approach. He believed that human knowledge is acquired through a complex interaction with what we think we know, from the past, for example, which he calls foreknowledge, or prejudice, and what we come to know through meeting with the other, with the stranger, with all that is new. This is completely oversimplified, but my take-away is simple. Foreknowledge of others, prejudice, assumptions based on someone being Arab or Jewish or Middle Eastern or Asian, is an essential part of how we organize a classify our complicated world–up to a point. 

The difference between destructive prejudice and constructive engagement with others is this: Is the mind opened or closed when engaging? Is the mouth respectful and thoughtful or arrogant? This a question of whether our reason is active enough to be ready to learn and change, as Gadamer hoped, and, additionally, do we have enough empathy to anticipate what is respectful comment or inquiry, and what is rude and arrogant. With an open mind and an open heart, all meetings can be a playful interaction of ignorance and learning. 




© Marc Gopin