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Prejudice is not black and white

Could prejudice be a toxic word?

Would you explore with me the idea that the use of the word prejudice is often, if not almost always, a toxic word?

Consider these points that argue for prejudice being a toxic word:

  1. It is almost always used pejoratively.

  2. Its meaning and appropriate use are ill-defined.

  3. Even if well-defined, when used pejoratively, it demonstrates the speaker is prejudiced against those they think are prejudiced.

Was the restaurant manager prejudiced against me?

"You have to leave the restaurant. We won't serve you." The restaurant manager said this to my friend and me on our weekend holiday to the city of Luoping in Yunnan Province. 

I had no trouble leaving the restaurant. I was just curious why he asked us to leave. I wouldn't want to eat in a restaurant in which the manager was not happy that I was there. My friend asked the manager, "Why?" He replied, "Because he is a foreigner."

What he probably meant was that he was concerned about the dangers of COVID for himself and his other patrons because he thought foreigners were more likely to be contagious with COVID than were Chinese. Even if he personally didn't think I presented any real danger, he could have been concerned that the other guests would be frightened of my presence. He may not have had any "prejudice" himself but he was concerned about what he thought his other patrons might believe. It was a crowded restaurant.

Was I a victim of prejudice?

If by prejudice you are indicating someone who acts to include (prejudicially positive) or exclude (what we normally call being prejudicial) based upon what they believe, even if untrue, that there is evidence, maybe even statistical evidence, that does not apply to the person that is excluded, then I can give strong arguments that the manager was acting prejudicially against me.

Additionally, I could provide evidence that the generalization he was acting upon, that is that I was more dangerous than Chinese because I might have contracted COVID and be contagious to him or the other restaurant patrons, was not true.

This possible meaning of prejudice is untenable

Assuming the accuracy of their statistical generalizations, most world governments act prejudicially positive when they grant favored visa status to all the citizens of certain other countries just because of those generalizations, often statistically based, that they have made about the people in that country. However, some of those people who can easily get a visa would not be given a visa if the gatekeepers for that country knew those people more in detail. For example, currently in 2021, if you are a German or Japanese passport holder, you've got a very green light to travel to almost any other country in the world, regardless of what your individual qualifications might be for being granted a visa.


And for the same reasons, governmental gatekeepers act prejudicially negative if you happen to be someone holding a passport from countries like Afghanistan, Syrian, Iraqi, or Pakistan because broad generalizations have been made about people from those countries. No matter how good a visitor you might be for the countries you would like to visit, if you're from one of these countries, you're going to have a hard-to-impossible time convincing the gatekeepers of most other countries to let you in.


And, of course, within these broad generalizations, each country will single out which are countries are the good guys and bad guys relative to them and then either "reward" those citizens or "punish" those citizens regarding easy or difficult visa access.

Almost all decisions regarding groups would be impossible without this "prejudice"

Credit rating agencies have to use generalizations, which may or may not apply to specific individuals caught on one side or the other of those generalizations, in order to give credit rating scores to each individual.

Companies, whenever they establish and maintain any policy that applies equally to its employees, customers, or vendors, either as a whole or in sub-groups, engage in this type of prejudice.

Even we as individuals make decisions regarding others based upon generalizations that may or may not apply to any particular individual that we categorize with a given generalization. For example, most women generalize regarding each man they don't know so well that they are less likely to be physically or even psychologically safe with that man than they would be with a woman they didn't know so well. This means that all those men, like myself, who absolutely pose no possible threat to any other woman, will still be treated, at least at the beginning, will an inappropriate and unneeded level of caution by most women. Prejudice!

Maybe this definition needs to be refined?

Should we only call some policy or attitude prejudiced if it is based upon an inaccurate statistical or factual generalization? 

This idea is not going to work very well. Yes, we can have mutually respectful discussions over what the data and facts indicate and even discuss what epistemological approaches we're going to use to distinguish fact from fiction. But taking a pejorative stand toward those who disagree with us and, rest assured they will probably respond in kind toward us, is likely to obscure for everyone the chances of gaining a more accurate view of what is true or not true.

By this definition of prejudice, the idea that others, and even ourselves, could or should somehow be able to operate in life without being prejudiced is a fantasy.

Could this be a good definition of prejudice?

Prejudice: taking inclusionary or exclusionary actions based upon generalizations, however derived at and whether accurate or not, that are judgmentally approving (inclusionary) or disapproving and blaming (exclusionary).

Inclusionary judgmentalness

"We belong to the Aryan race."

"We're good Christians."

"We brothers need to remember our roots."

Exclusionary judgmentalness

"Men belong with women, not other men."

"Spiks should stay in their own neighborhood."

"That woman is shameless for being so brazen."

Being pejorative about others being laudative or pejorative is going to have its problems

Although I can have the most sympathy for this possible distinction (let's blame the blamers), it has two major problems.

As long as we consider those who are negatively prejudicial however accurately we're able to distinguish it that term, as something to disapprove of, to blame others for, then we're likely to just be pouring gasoline on the fire. It's fanning the flames. Blame begets counter-blame. Blame begets defense. Even if blame and shaming appear to be successful, most likely the unwanted behavior or attitude has just been driven underground to cause problems there or to later resurface. Its success, if any, is short-term and incurs many costs.

Not only is being prejudicial in this sense likely to be counterproductive, but it's also the same behavior, just with a different target, as the behavior of others that you think are prejudicial in their actions and attitudes. If being prejudicial in this sense is something that we should not be, then being prejudiced against those who are prejudicial is also being prejudicial. Gotcha! 

Introducing prejudice's co-workers

Prejudice, as a toxic idea and word, is spread and supported by its many co-workers. These are just some of their names.

  • Ageism

  • Anti-Semitic 

  • Apartheid

  • Bias

  • Bigotry

  • Chauvinism

  • Classism

  • Discrimination

  • Extremism

  • Homophobia

  • Islamophobia

  • Nationalism

  • Racism

  • Religious prejudice

  • Sexism

  • Scapegoating

  • Speciesism

  • Stereotyping

  • Xenophobia

Welcome to a few members of the big "happy" family of prejudicially-lead toxic words!

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