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How to recognize and overcome prejudice


Prejudice. It's an ugly word. It has nasty connotations. It's a word that we never really want to confront. But still, there it is: prejudice. You may think that you've never had to deal with prejudice before. Maybe you're not a prejudiced person. Maybe you've never felt the effects of prejudice. But if this is truly what you think, perhaps you should look a little deeper. Almost all of us, black, white, brown, male, female, or somewhere in between, have felt the effects of prejudice in our lives. Whether it has had a direct impact on our own lives or on the lives of our loved ones, prejudice is a very real problem. Here's how to recognize it and begin to overcome it.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, prejudice simply means "prejudgment." More specifically, the definition says "Preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; bias, partiality; unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, a race, sex, or other class of people." Now thinking about that definition, you can probably come up with at least one experience of prejudice in either your own life or someone you know. It may occur in small, insignificant ways or large and important ways. For example, prejudice may occur in a university classroom when the students do not respect the teacher because she is young and female. Or prejudice may occur in the workplace when a person of a particular skin tone is passed over for a promotion that is given to a lesser employee.


Now, it is important to realize that prejudice isn't something that only minorities experience. Anyone can feel the effects of prejudice. In this day and age of political correctness and special treatment for minorities, the middle-aged, white male may also experience the effects of prejudice (as opposed to 30 years ago, when they were the ones doing most of the discriminating). Let's take, for example, two students, both 18 years old, both applying to the same schools. They both have very comparable grades from high school, and their entrance exam scores were very similar. One of these boys is Caucasian and the other is Japanese. The Caucasian boy, however, has participated in a wide variety of clubs and service activities, while the Japanese boy has not. When the college entrance board is deciding who to accept to their school, they may choose the Japanese boy, mainly to fill the quota of required minorities, regardless of the extra qualifications of the Caucasian boy. Hence even the majority can feel the effects of prejudice.

As you may have gathered by now, recognizing prejudice is not the hard part of this question. The hard part is learning how to overcome it. How can you go through life feeling the effects of prejudice?

The answer is not an easy one. Unfortunately, many people will never fully escape the effects of prejudice. There are, however a few things you can do if you feel like someone has prejudged you.
1. Talk to the person. If you feel that someone has made incorrect assumptions about you, go to that person and talk to them. Find out why they made those assumptions. Explain your actual point of view. Try to make that person understand where they made an incorrect judgment.
2. Talk to your supervisor. If you feel prejudice from someone at work, talk to your supervisor. S/he may be able to talk to the person about improper behavior at work. Or s/he may be able to remove that person from working around you.
3. Develop thicker skin. Some people will never listen to reason, no matter what. In these situations, the best you can do is just deal with the prejudice. Try to avoid working with or being around that person. Don't let their uneducated, inconsiderate thoughts get to you. Be bigger than that.

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