Knowing the cause of something is always useful when trying to make a change; because prejudice is something many people struggle with, knowing the causes of prejudice may help put things into perspective, which may help change our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Prejudice is a negative ATTITUDE toward individuals solely based on a group to which they belong; those groups being ethnic, religious, or even social. Many people get prejudice confused with discrimination. Discrimination is a negative ACTION toward a group, usually denying its members equality. Now that you know the difference between the two, keep reading to find out 7 important causes of prejudice you should also know!
1. Prejudice is Acceptable
One of the most important causes of prejudice is the fact that it’s acceptable in many neighborhoods, businesses, and institutions. To many of us, prejudice is unacceptable; it’s not fair. However, in some places, it’s a norm, maybe even an unwritten rule. Throughout history, people have had negative attitudes toward people of other groups, especially ethnic, social, or religious minority groups, and unfortunately some people aren’t aware of those prejudices. Because they’re not aware, they don’t realize when they say things that reflect their attitudes, such as “why are you hanging out with them?” in a disgusted tone. The attitudes then continue from generation to generation and don’t stop until people make themselves aware and decide to change.
2. Scapegoats Are Available
Another reason why prejudice is up and running is because there’s someone or some group to pin problems on, a scapegoat. “I hate those stupid vegetarians, they’re the reason why we can’t have prime rib in the cafeteria!” Angry meat eaters blame the vegetarians because they have to eat salad and granola bars everyday for lunch. There’s actually a bigger problem at hand, which takes me to my next point.
3. The Real Problem May Be Too Big or Complex to Address
The reason why everyone is stuck eating salad and granola bars isn’t because they’re trying to accommodate the vegetarians, it’s because the institution doesn’t have enough money to provide other options! Sometimes people don’t realize that some problems are beyond their understanding, so they assume it’s someone’s fault, and who better than the other group members? A cause of prejudice is people not knowing where to place frustration, so it’s placed on a group of people.
Another cause of prejudice is conflict between groups. If the dancers and the cheerleaders of a school constantly bump heads on who's going to perform the football halftime show, negative attitudes about that other group are bound to form. When there’s a problem between groups, many people fuel the fire by dwelling on their negative thoughts about the conflict itself and then putting that negativity off on the group with which they have the problem.
Competition goes hand-in-hand with conflict. Many groups compete for resources or acknowledgment and find themselves in a conflict, which leads to the negative thoughts and attitudes called prejudice.
Another important cause of prejudice is categorization or labeling. When you label someone, you put him or her in a box. It then becomes “Us” and “Them,” your group versus theirs. Studies show that the human mind naturally views the members of the “us” group more favorably than the members of the “them” group, and it views “them” a lot more negatively than “us.” When you find yourself categorizing, retreat. Don’t continue with this thinking because it’s a road that leads to prejudice.
Lastly, there are stereotypes. Stereotypes are overgeneralized or oversimplified beliefs about someone’s personal characteristics. Stereotypes guide what we notice about people and what we look for in people, mostly negative, which leads to negative attitudes toward individuals. If you believe all men are unfaithful, cognitively, you’re more likely to remember examples of when men have cheated rather than when they’ve showed faithfulness. Also you’re more likely to look for that when you meet them; with “men are cheaters” in the back of your mind throughout your entire date, it’s likely that you’ll treat that man as if he fits into that stereotype.
We’ve all prejudged someone at some point in our lives, but just because our minds try to naturally label people, that doesn’t mean we have to settle with those labels and develop negative attitudes toward people we THINK fit the labels. Don’t let color, a wardrobe, or socioeconomic status dictate how you perceive an individual person. Get to know people and let your thoughts about them come only from their individual characters. Address your prejudices, seek out people you think fit your stereotypes, and let them prove you wrong! You won’t regret it. I hope you found this article helpful! Now that you know some of the causes, I hope you’re better prepared to face those attitudes you have head on, and change what you think needs to be changed. Have you ever experienced prejudiced thinking?
Watson, D. (1992). Psychology. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.