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Why Prejudice Is Bad


Aya Katz has a PhD in linguistics from Rice University. She is an ape language researcher and the author of Vacuum County and other novels.

Everybody agrees that prejudice is bad. I have never in my life met anyone who was in favor of prejudice. There is such universal agreement on this topic that it makes us feel united. Except when it comes to actual instances of prejudice. Then nobody seems to agree.

Taking a stand against prejudice is almost like taking a stand against evil. Nobody likes "evil," so everybody agrees with you. But then when it comes to identifying what evil is, where it is found, and what we should do about it, there's a wide divergence of opinion.

In the case of evil, this phenomenon is perfectly understandable and transparent. "Evil" is just a word for "very, very bad." And "bad" is a word for things we don't like. And different people don't like different things to differing degrees. So universal agreement about "evil" is not forthcoming. Not now and not ever.

But the case of prejudice, I think, is a little bit different. Prejudice actually means something. It's not just a pejorative term for behavior or thinking that we don't like.

This is an illustration from the deluxe gift edition of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

This is an illustration from the deluxe gift edition of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

The Definition of Prejudice

Prejudice means pre-judging. Prejudging can be driven by a limited data set or it can be completely arbitrary and unmotivated. A person could formulate a statement about reality without making any effort to test it, such as "the moon is made of cheese." If, when presented with evidence that this is not so, such as samples brought back from the moon, he is unwilling to change his mind or consider the evidence, we label such a person "prejudiced." Please keep in mind that it is not the original belief about the what the moon is composed of that is the prejudice. The prejudice is the unwillingness to revise the original opinion when presented with evidence to the contrary.

Our preliminary opinion about any topic may be mistaken. An open-minded person is constantly revising mistaken opinions when evidence to the contrary comes to light. Prejudice is the unwillingness to consider evidence.

In many cases, a mistaken opinion is based on over-generalization from known instances. We may observe that all the bats we have seen are black, and then go on to formulate a hypothesis that bats must by their very nature be black. So far, so good. But when presented with a sighting of a bat that isn't black, a prejudiced person will not be willing to change his theory.

In the real world, the use of statistical data about the known members of a category in order to predict the traits of a specific member of the same category is a common practice. There is nothing wrong with this practice, because we all engage in induction as a means of trying to understand the world we live in. Prejudice is the failure to heed direct evidence from counterexamples to hypothesized predictive rules.

The direct consequence of prejudice is ignorance. Indirect consequences that often follow include an inability to make appropriate choices that enhance the chances of one's own survival.

Prohibitions against prejudice can be found in texts prescribing rules for scientific investigation of reality, the ethical treatment of conspecifics and even in books prescribing proper etiquette.

Our preliminary opinion about any topic may be mistaken. An open-minded person is constantly revising mistaken opinions when evidence to the contrary comes to light. Prejudice is the unwillingness to consider evidence.

Science, Ethics and Etiquette

In science, prejudice prevents us from discovering facts about the world we live in. In ethics, prejudice leads to unfair treatment of individuals. In etiquette, behavior that betrays one's prejudices is considered taboo.

But what happens when we mix categories? What would happen if we applied rules of etiquette to science or rules of scientific inquiry to ethics?

Ethics and etiquette are related, both etymologically and in terms of cultural provenance. But while ethics aims toward a fair treatment of conspecifics in terms of function, etiquette is more concerned with the appearance of tolerance.

While ethics would require one not to judge another before sufficient evidence has been presented, etiquette requires us to behave as if we haven't judged, even if in fact we already have. Etiquette aims to preserve the social peace, while ethics is meant to keep the actual treatment of others fair. Both serve a function, but it is not the same function.

Let's say you go to a party where you come across somebody you don't like. You might have good reason to dislike the person. You may know that he steals or cheats or beats his wife or kicks his dog. However, this is not the right venue to bring all that up. (And there may never be a right venue—as his habits may not be any of your business.) Only a boor would mention all this at a social event that is meant to be festive and meaningless. So a person who has proper etiquette will behave civilly to the other person he does not like. This does not mean that no judging has taken place. It just means that the social event in question is neither the time nor the place to address any of the misdeeds for which the other has been judged. Tolerance is exercised: you simply ignore what you don't like about the person, thereby helping to maintain the peace.

But suppose you applied the standard of etiquette to someone accused of a crime? Suppose you didn't tell him what crime he stands accused of, thus preventing him from ever exonerating himself? Suppose, instead, that you cast him into a deep dark dungeon from which he can never emerge? That would be bad. That would be prejudging at its worst. What if instead of throwing him into a dungeon you issue an unconditional pardon? That would also be bad. You are still preventing him from having his day in court and clearing his name. Tolerance has no place in ethics. Ethics concerns itself with fairness. Fairness requires an investigation of the facts. It requires us to examine the evidence.

Because we are not omniscient, when another person stands accused of a crime, we apply a high burden of proof that if not met will set the accused free and result in a finding of "not guilty." Since we must perforce err, we err on the side of innocence, because it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent to suffer.

But what if we used a burden of proof such as this in science? What would that mean? It would mean that we have a bias and a social agenda. It would mean that our science is less concerned with investigating reality than with maintaining a particular view of reality.

In science, there should be no bias. A single counterexample is enough to overturn a hypothesis. In science, if we don't know whether something is true, we can simply admit ignorance. We aren't required to make a judgment when there is not evidence enough to decide one way or the other.

Puzzling Examples of Prejudice

In my life, I have often been startled by the prejudices that I've encountered. I'm sure I have plenty of prejudices of my own, but until they are brought to our attention, most of us are unaware of our misconceptions. It is not so much people's misconceptions that puzzle me as the inability to revise an opinion once new evidence is brought to light.

When I was 11, my family moved to Grand Prairie, Texas. The process of assimilating to this new environment was difficult, but I did manage to make a friend during my first year there. She was a girl in my class, who like me enjoyed poetry and playing dolls. One day, she made the following offhand observation: "Guys don't write poetry."

I was startled. I said: "Why do you think that?"

"Well, they don't even like poetry. Poetry is something girls like."

"But some of the most famous poets in the world were men!" I said. "Shakespeare was a man. And Wordsworth was a man. And Byron was a man. And Kipling."

"I mean real men," she said.

I always get confused when people use that qualifier: "real men." As opposed to what? False men?

Was my friend trying to imply that Shakespeare was really a woman? Or that Wordsworth was a chimpanzee? Or that Lord Byron had his poetry generated for him by a computer?

No. She was not questioning the facts that I presented. She was trying to let me know that these counterexamples were irrelevant.Those were all Englishmen, that I cited. (I could have cited non-English poets, but I thought she might not have heard of those.) And they were all dead. And so they didn't count.

"No man I've ever met likes poetry," she explained.

"That's not true," I said. "You've met my father. And he likes poetry. He even writes it."

"Oh," she said. "Well, okay. But . . . that doesn't count."

Why It Doesn't Count

What I find puzzling is not my friend's initial hypothesis that men don't like poetry, but the fact that nothing I could say or do—no evidence that I could present—would ever change her mind.

Was it because she doubted the veracity of my claims? I don't think so. Was it because she didn't mean "all men" but "most men"? Or was it because she used some sort of algorithm for statistical analysis that required her to dump outliers? My friend was not sufficiently articulate to explain her reasoning, and I remain in the dark to this very day.

What I find puzzling is not my friend's initial hypothesis that men don't like poetry, but the fact that nothing I could say or do—no evidence that I could present—would ever change her mind.

Exceptions Disprove Rules

Another friend, one I met much later, is convinced that unless parents sit with their children and supervise all their homework, then the children are bound to fail. She thinks this is true if the child has fallen behind in any subject. She gives this example to back up her rule: once, when she was small, she was very ill and missed several months of school. When she returned to school, she was behind on most of her subjects. Her mother sat with her while she did her homework and caught up. "If it weren't for my mother's help, I would have failed!"

"Well, you don't really know what would have happened if your mother hadn't helped you," I reply. "My own parents kept switching between Israel and the United States. I went to first and second grade in the U.S. Third and fourth grade in Israel. Fifth grade in the U.S. It wasn't just different schools. It was different languages. Different writing systems. Every time we switched, I was terribly behind. But I always caught up in a matter of months, and my parents did nothing to help me with that. It was sink or swim."

We've had this discussion many times. At this point, my friend crosses her arms, takes on a decisive tone that says the discussion is over, and says; "Well, you are the exception that proves the rule."

I don't care so much that she disagrees with me. What really bothers me is this notion that she has that counterexamples have the effect of supporting a hypothesis. Exceptions don't prove rules. They disprove them.

A single counterexample overturns the inferences drawn from a whole mountain of supporting evidence.

My Own Half-Baked Theories

There is nothing wrong with noticing statistical correlations or formulating tentative rules that rely on them. When I began to practice law, I noticed something about people who, during the preliminary interview before I took their case, suddenly declared themselves to be Christians. If it was a woman who was making this profession of faith, then the next thing that came out of her mouth was a confession that she had been unfaithful to her husband. But if it was a man who had just declared that he was a Christian, then more likely than not, his check was going to bounce.

This was not a prejudice against Christians per se. It was just an observation about people who felt the need to declare their faith in a lawyer's office when nobody had asked them anything about it. The women with their adultery didn't bother me so much, but learning to predict when a check was going to bounce was a matter of my own survival. The first professed Christian client I met not only did not pay me my fee—he took me for the filing fee. That was money out of my pocket, and it really hurt.

The next time a man declared himself to be a Christian just before writing me a check, the hair on the back of my neck rose in a primitive warning, and so after he left my office, I immediately phoned the bank on which the check was drawn and asked whether there was sufficient cover. There was not.

For a time, this primitive rule of thumb worked for me, but eventually it turned out that while a profession of faith was a sufficient condition for insufficient cover, it was not a necessary condition. Other checks started to bounce, too, ones written by people who had not declared their faith. So eventually I came to realize that bouncing checks were an equal opportunity hazard. I went back to treating everyone exactly the same. Only now, instead of trusting everybody, I mistrusted all equally. I presented each check for payment at the bank on which it was drawn. Since there were many different banks, this was a costly, time consuming process. It was one of the many reasons that I eventually decided not to practice law anymore.

The Clerks

Now, it was a well known fact that clients' checks often bounced. For this reason, the District Clerk's Office only accepted lawyers' checks. But here is where another prejudice came into play. Apparently, in order to take advantage of this rule, it was not enough to be a lawyer. You had to look like one, too. What does a lawyer look like? Well, I'm not sure, but apparently not like me.

The first time a clerk rejected my check when I tried to file a divorce, I didn't quite understand what was happening. "We only accept lawyer's checks," he said, showing me the sign. "I am a lawyer." "You'll have to pay in cash or by money order." "But I am a lawyer." He didn't seem to hear me. So I stuck the check in front of his nose, and I pointed at the part that read: "Aya Katz, Attorney at Law." At that point, he became aware of the fact that it was drawn on a lawyer's account, but he still didn't believe that I was that lawyer. It took another ten minutes, and I had to produce my driver's license and bar card, something none of the other lawyers had been asked to do. Finally, convinced, he apologized: "Sorry. You don't look like a lawyer."

What does a lawyer look like? Was it the way I was dressed? I dressed in a three piece suit. Was it the fact I was a woman? There were many other women lawyers. Was it my manner? My speech? My height? My complexion? I never could figure it out. But invariably, whenever a new clerk was hired, one who had never seen me before, I had to go through the same process of breaking through the inferences that were drawn based on my outward appearance.

The way to combat prejudice is to make people see that it doesn't matter how many times the inference has proved true. They still have to look at the particular instance before them, and if it doesn't fall into the rule they have formulated, then the rule is wrong.

How to Combat Prejudice

How can we combat prejudice? Can we do this by telling people to "be nice"? Do we teach them not to use racial slurs or to betray their deep seated assumptions? No, that's just etiquette. That's a way for us all to pretend not to be prejudiced when we actually are.

Before we teach ethics, we have to teach logic. All the good intentions in the world will not help until people learn that a single counterexample overturns a rule. It is bad to pre-judge all members of group X, not because the statistical correlates that many of us have noticed aren't true. Most stereotypes have some statistical data to support them. That is how they arise. The way to combat prejudice is to make people see that it doesn't matter how many times the inference has proved true. They still have to look at the particular instance before them, and if it doesn't fall into the rule they have formulated, then the rule is wrong.

A single man poet disproves the rule about men disliking poetry. A single instance of a professed Christian whose check doesn't bounce overturns the rule that a profession of faith is the sign of a crook. A single instance of someone who is a lawyer but does not "look like one" should make a person alter the preconception of what lawyers look like.

It isn't about tolerance. It's about logic.

Keeping an Open Mind Is Impossible Without Logic

The same observations that I have made above about prejudice in the interaction between individuals are also relevant in scientific inquiry.

A single rare event overturns a rule that says that event is impossible. A single instance of a non-human using language should be enough to show that being human isn't a necessary precondition to language use. To agree on this, we don't have to like non-humans. We don't need to have experience with non-humans. All we have to do is master the very rudiments of logic.

I was recently taken to task when I suggested that it was important to teach children that there is a difference between being human (a biological fact) and being a person (an ethical concept.) Once the two definitions are in place, it is possible to talk about theoretical cases when humans aren't people, and when people aren't human. I was told that because cases such as this are rare, children should not be exposed to the distinction. But it's the rare cases that lead to prejudice in the first place. Prejudice, more often than not, is based on misplaced faith in statistically motivated predictions. If you let a child grow up without understanding the distinction between the average case and an absolute rule based on averages, he won't be able to recognize a counterexample to a rule when he is presented with it.

"Here is a man who likes poetry." "No, I mean 'real men.'" If you build not liking poetry into the definition of "man," then all the counterexamples will go into the file marked "unreal men." If you define human and person as synonymous, then all the people we encounter who are not human will fall into the category marked "not real people."

Keeping an open mind is impossible without logic.

I was recently accused of making a cryptic reference to racism when I observed an instance of prejudice. Nothing was further from my mind. Prejudice is not a form of racism. Racism is a form of prejudice. But it takes logic to see that.

© 2009 Aya Katz


Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on August 22, 2012:

Zera, yes, I agree. Basic reasoning should be taught in school.

SotD and Zera on August 22, 2012:

Well, I'll be honest; having used both emotional and logical appeals in the past, I think some people aren't swayed by either. But at least, if they're exposed to both and still don't change, they don't get the socially-created high ground of claiming to be the calm, rational ones. If you're interested in that kind of thing, Googling 'tone argument' should provide some interesting material.

I just really wish the stuff in your article- basic reasoning- was taught in schools. It'd make debates a lot more productive.


Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on August 22, 2012:

Thanks, Zera! Too often the arguments leveled against prejudice are so emotional that those inclined toward prejudice are not convinced.

SotD and Zera on August 22, 2012:

I don't think I've ever encountered a critique of prejudice from the perspective of empirical reasoning. This was a really interesting read.


Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 26, 2012:

Thanks, Nick Hanlon.

Nick Hanlon from Chiang Mai on July 26, 2012:

Awesome pic BTW.Keep up the good work.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on June 10, 2012:

Chef-du-jour, thanks for your comment.

I'm not sure I understand the labels of "conditional" versus "unconditional" when it comes to prejudice. Most prejudice applies to subgroups, so in that sense it is conditional on the object of our prejudice belonging to the group that we have the prejudice against.

Did you possibly mean "conditioned", in the sense that the person with the prejudice did not conceive of it herself through a process of independent thought, but rather she picked it up from other people ready-made?

Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on June 10, 2012:

Thanks for this perceptive hub. What a subject to tackle!Out of all the subjects in the world you chose the one that can be lit like dry tinder and in no time can set the world on fire. Bravery on your behalf? Or some deep seated need to balance the books and right the wrongs?

Perhaps a little of both. Whatever the reason, if there is a reason - these things need to be aired and talked about, so full marks for that.

Prejudice in my mind is a severe form of distorted opinion, perhaps bordering on personality disorder in its more extreme forms. Perhaps we all have a mild dose of it somewhere in our genetic make up; it's latent and only needs the right environment to come along to set it off!!

Prejudice per se can be split up into component parts:

* conditional

* unconditional

Conditional seems to me the most common and is what your friend had with regards men and poetry. She more than likely picked that up from her parents/family and has probably now evolved into something a little fruitier shall we say.Ooops running out of time on this one.

Appreciate your time and effort!

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on January 28, 2012:

SweetiePie, thanks for your comment. It was rude of the clerk from my perspective to say that I did not look like a lawyer. But from his perspective, it was just a reasonable mistake that anybody would have made. Since the new clerks didn't start out with any malicious intent and were just learning the ropes, they felt, in all innocence, that they could not be held accountable for the fact that they did not yet know I was a lawyer.

It's really hard to get people to accept any responsibility for things that they do in good faith. Everybody knows that they're not supposed to step on somebody else's foot on purpose. When they do it by accident, they expect to be forgiven right away.

As for why U.S. businesses accept checks, even though so many of them bounce, I think it's because despite this, so many more do not bounce. Taking a check is being able to trust a person for the short term. Taking a note is trusting them for the long term. In the U.S., more people are still trustworthy than not.

I have lived in countries where people don't write checks, because checks would not be accepted. In such a country, even a bank issued certified check requires a co-signing endorser, before you can deposit it in your bank account.

The situation regarding checks is a good barometer of the level of trust among people in any given country.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on January 27, 2012:

I was interested about reading about your law days, and that sounds frustrating having a clerk infer you are not a lawyer. It is kind of rude on his part, and I think I would be annoyed by that.

People bouncing checks is a story I have heard from many businesses as well. So many people I knew were happy when ATM cards become more in vogue because they were able to clear the funds right away, and there are still people who write bad checks. There is actually a Mexican food restaurant that I used to go to that has papered their entire walls with bad checks people have written. I sort of wonder, why do they even continue taking checks after being burned that many times.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on March 06, 2011:

Me, I'm glad this helped you with your paper.

You ask what causes prejudice. Do you mean in particular individuals or across the board? Prejudice is a kind of over-generalization that people use to make predictions about what new people they do not know will do based on what other people they've met in the past have done. It is motivated by a desire to avoid being hurt, but it can seriously backfire.

Me on March 06, 2011:

i was wondering if you could mention something about what causes prejudice? but thank you so much!! i had a paper to write in English about prejudice and intolerance and this helped A LOT!! thank you so much :)

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 09, 2010:

Person, "bad" depends on your context and system of values. My chimpanzee son Bow, for instance, starts out very prejudiced toward all people outside our immediate family group, so much so that he becomes aggressive. That kind of prejudice can have survival value in the wild, but it's a sort of disability in the civilized world, which, if carried to extremes, will get you locked up behind bars.

Person on July 09, 2010:

Well, prejudice isn't completely bad. And it's kept a lot of people alive in the past. If you meet someone who is a different skin color or speaks differently, or whatever, the naturally response is to be a little untrustworthy, and this isn't necessarily bad. In conditions where there is no time to understand this new person and reason if they are bad or not, being prejudiced, which only means to have some ideas about ANYTHING without knowing stuff about it, you might live while everyone dies. Cro-magnon for example got killed out be some of our earliest ancestors. It is very likely the ancestors felt suspicious of these very different hominids and carried out a preemptive attack. It is very likely the Cro-magnon planned the exact same thing. So to call it bad is to deny some of the positives that come from it. But when you call it out on its negative components you are right.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on June 08, 2010:

Tino Benners, prejudice harms everyone, but the person most harmed is the one clinging to the prejudice despite all evidence to the contrary. When you are incapable of seeing the world as it is, as opposed to your preconceptions, you end up making decisions that backfire. You make enemies of would be friends and you reduce your own effectiveness.

Tino Benners on June 07, 2010:

I still don't understand why prejudice is a bad thing, what does it do to harm anyone?

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on January 09, 2010:

James Watkins, thanks! That means a lot to me!

James A Watkins from Chicago on January 09, 2010:

While all of your articles are superb, I think this to be one of your very best. It is deep and wide, and I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Thank you for the mental stimulation.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 25, 2009:

Tequilasunrise, thanks! It may be hard to keep an open mind under difficult conditions, but even during a state of war people have been known to make friends with others from the enemy camp. If we are open to the potential in others, then unexpected things can happen.

tequilasunrise from General Santos City, Philippines on December 25, 2009:

Whew.!! Aya..This is heavy. Prejudice? It is hard to admit, but we all have it due to our individual differences, aided by the way we are taught at home, school and in the streets! A good foundation at home would wipe out 90% of this, but the school and the streets teaches us the detours that bring us to square one. It is good to be humble and honest always! These are ideals that must be planted at home. Ok? Not Ok. Most times, the school and the streets teach us the opposite and be smart in a miserable way. Not my fault Madam. Some guys out there simply like to step on my toes or flick ashes on my coffee! What can I do? Very challenging topic Aya. I like this! Thanks.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 23, 2009:

Bill Yon, yes, your point is well taken. If you don't socialize with people, you often don't get to know them. Of course, going to school and working with people of different backgrounds gives us an opportunity to socialize, but not everybody takes advantage of this opportunity, and it isn't always as easy to do so as we might like to think.

bill yon from sourcewall on December 23, 2009:

never been around white people outside of school or work,never socialized or really got to know anyone that was white.you can be around people in those enviroments like work and school but that doesn't mean you get to know them.you can see speak to anyone during business hours and still not really live in the same world with them.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 23, 2009:

Jerilee, I can see that this might not be the most desirable experience to have. I think that maybe exposure to too much ugliness can be dangerous to one's sense of trust.

Jerilee Wei from United States on December 23, 2009:

I'm not sure that interesting experiences would be how I would describe some life experiences. When I was younger I often worked for a number of lawyers, one had me interviewing his clients informally as a visitor because he was paranoid that their conversations were being recorded. One walk on the wild side I wish I had skipped. Quite an eye-opener.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 23, 2009:

Jerilee, you have such interesting experiences! What were you interviewing the prisoners about?

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 23, 2009:

Bill Yon, thanks for sharing that experience. Sometimes isolation can breed paranoia. Mistrust of people who don't look like us can be strongest if we've never been around such people. It's odd, though, for someone living in the US to not to have been around white people, though. (This did happen in the US, right?) That must be a very rare phenomenon. One of the reasons majority prejudice against minorities tends to be so strong is that members of a majority group might easily escape contact with minorities. But most minorities have no choice but to become really well acquainted with many members of the majority.

Jerilee Wei from United States on December 22, 2009:

Such an interesting hub and topic that will have me thinking on it for awhile. I learned my own lesson in terms of prejudice years ago when interviewing prisoners in a state facility -- the big scary looking guy with all the tattos had committed crimes of low consequence (he was more a threat to himself than the rest of the world) and the timid, sweet appearing, clean cut looking guy had committed the most horrific crimes imaginable. Stopped me cold for life in terms of judging people by their looks or nationality.

bill yon from sourcewall on December 22, 2009:

One night I thought it would be fun to take one of my friends to a party,A all white party,we're black,I didn't know at the time that my friend had never been around white people,when we arrived at the party and he saw that everyone was white,he got extremely paranoid,thinking that someone was going to try and poison us,or someone was going to try and attack us,or even kill us!I was shocked at the amount of fear he had of white people!needless to say I had to leave the party and take him home,and ruin a perfectly good night,because he had a pre-judged image of white people and nothing I could say would change his mind.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 22, 2009:

Mortgagestar1, much of the legislation in recent years that is intended to fight prejudice in fact enshrines it. The law, in order to be fair to all, should not take into account the rights of groups, but only the rights of individuals. It should be blind to color, ethnicity, religious affiliation or any other irrelevant marker of group categorization. On the other hand, prejudice against convicted criminals is a different matter, as they have been tried and judged. Thanks for your comment!

Mortgagestar1 from Weirton,West Virginia on December 22, 2009:

Most prejudices are indeed bad! The word comes from To pre judge. There are many double standards involving prejudice. We see it in Hate Crime legislation. All violent crime derives from hate and to say one group hates and another does not is simply a prejudicial act in itself. it is in vogue for groups to swear at and call others honkey, whitey, snowman, ghost, redneck, ect.....

The double standard of white men dating women of color and being attacked by black men while these very black men sexually harass white women is common place. I know, I've experienced it myself!

However, some forms of prejudice may be justified. prejudice against pediphiles, criminals, and so on is reasonable. Why should a landlord rent to a repeated child molestor or gangbanger? I live din Europe and the prejudice against Muslims is huge and state supported like France. Germany has had race riots over Turks and even against Scientologist. Interesting how these liberal socialist nations are so intolerant.

We are often products of our environmemts and experiences and it is difficult at times to fight against our own bigotries and prejudices.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 21, 2009:

Adam Alden, thanks for your comment! Special rights for any particular group creates a discriminatory effect. The right of an individual to be treated fairly by a government requires that group affiliation be completely disregarded. For each to have the same rights means that none can have special rights. Your point is valid.

Adam Alden from Up On A Hill In Wiltshire on December 21, 2009:

Aya, a very well written and very well thought out post.

I wholeheartedly agree that prejudice against anybody of any race, gender, ability etc. is totally and utterly wrong.

However, I can understand why some people feel the need to let their 'defence mechanisms' kick in and to treat people in a bad way.

I used to work for a council, and every September there would be a Mardi Gras celebration for the gay community. This was fine, as I believe that they should have the right to celebrate their identity. However, when I asked why a similar party could not be done for straight people I was told that this would be politically incorrect and would offend the Gay Community.

Well hang on a cotton-picking minute - don't straight people have rights too? I would find that, as a straight person, most insulting and prejudicial. What about my rights to express myself as a straight person, who is proud to be heterosexual? Are we not all equal - or do some people want to be more equal than others?

Take for example the recent story in the rugby world about former Wales player Gareth Thomas 'coming out'. Mr. Thomas argues that rugby needs to do more for gay people - why? The laws that govern the game do not allow prejudice, and are very strict and watertight. There is even a gay rugby referee in Nigel Owens, and like Mr. Thomas he has made 'similar noises' in the rights department.

My nugget of thought on any prejudice is this: 'Know that as a human being, you are equal among your brothers and sisters. You are no more and no less.'

I will close by quoting a line from the Manic Street Preachers:

'A slave begins by demanding justice, and ends up wanting to wear a crown.' Therefore, who is now the prejudicer?

Merry Christmas, and all the very best for 2010.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 21, 2009:

Studyo, thanks for your comment. You are right that it would be easier to give every person we meet a chance, if there weren't so many people. This is one of the many ways that a world with a smaller population would be a better world.

stüdyo on December 21, 2009:

We have to. We can't possibly analyze each person we encounter as an individual. Maybe if there were less people..

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Nets, you are probably correct that I am not free from prejudice. But in a free market, as you say, all of us would have the best possible opportunity to learn from our counterproductive choices and possibly outgrow our prejudices. Myself included.

nhkatz from Bloomington, Indiana on December 20, 2009:


In a free market, credit scores should be based on whatever sells. And in a free market, this at least creates a tendency towards the most accurately predictive credit scoring.

As it is, the way in which credit scoring depends on past behavior is conterintuitive. People with mortgages have better credit scores than those without. People who keep the same credit card accounts for a long time have better scores than those that periodically close accounts and open new ones.

If you define prejudice as any method of decision making that will cause the practitioner to suffer, then of course you are correct. If you define it to include the use of all

available data to make decisions in the absence of complete information, then the practitioner may not suffer.

I don't believe you are entirely objective in assessing what forms of decision-making are counterproductive.

You seem to be displaying some prejudices.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Nets, credit ratings as currently constituted are based on past activity by the person being rated, if I'm not mistaken. Do you really think that predictions based on ethnicity would be more accurate than predictions based on individual past behavior? I don't.

Be that as it may, I do not support laws that restrict private prejudice. I'm just suggesting that people who practice it will eventually suffer from their own choices.

For instance, I was free in my law practice to refuse to serve professed Christians. However, I think I would have severely limited my client base and hence my income, had I made that decision.

nhkatz from Bloomington, Indiana on December 20, 2009:


What do you think excellent credit means?

Credit scoring is also a statistical method for ascertaining the probability someone will repay a loan without really getting to know him.

(However credit scorers are forbidden by law to take into account that someone is Finnish. This makes their product

less reliable than it would be otherwise.)

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Nets, fortunately there is also your employer, who owns the restaurant, to consider. The Finn may be a bad tipper on average, but he has excellent credit and always pays his bills. Your employer wants you to serve him. Refuse to serve him and you might lose your job. That is another probability to consider.

If you are a freelance waiter, the situation might be a little different.

nhkatz from Bloomington, Indiana on December 20, 2009:


Such decisions should be made quantitively.

Let P_1 be the probability that Finns do not tip and L the loss associated with serving one who does not. Then 1-P_1 is the probability of a tipping Finn and G the associated gain.

You calculate:

(1-P_1) G - P_1 L. It is your expected gain from serving the unknown Finn. If it is negative you might not want to.

If you only take into account the possible gain and not the possible loss, the same argument suggests you should play the lottery. You never know when your ticket might be the jackpot winner.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Nets, but think about that really great tip you might miss out on, if you base your expectation on all the previous Finns you've encountered!

Hey, I'm not saying anybody should force you to engage with a Finn. I'm just saying, one of these days a Finn could surprise you, if you give him half a chance!

nhkatz from Bloomington, Indiana on December 20, 2009:


I never understand your reasoning. I should think it is all right to refuse to serve a new person from Group X (I'm thinking Finns) until that person has been proven to be a tipper, based on the available statistical evidence.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Its Angel, I think there is a difference between a preliminary misjudgment -- that is before we are presented with evidence -- and the kind of prejudice that seems to be impervious to evidence. We all can be mistaken. We all can jump to conclusions too soon. But the real problem is when people are unwilling to see with their own eyes that they've made a mistake and then correct their misconception.

If someone is a waiter and has observed that members of group X don't tip, then so far, no harm done. But if he refuses to wait on a new person from group X just because others have not tipped, then there might be a problem. Keeping an open mind means waiting to see how someone behaves before judging him. Maybe expectations will be dashed!

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Paraglider, good! Then we are in agreement.

Its Angel from Charleston, SC on December 20, 2009:

I agree with you Aya, but prejudice means simply to Pre Judge something or someone. I don't think any of us can say we have never done it. Like the women driver incident, have not ever looked at someone and known they were how they were going to speak? My daughter works in a Denny's and the servers loathe to wait on certain races or people because they know they will not tip, but they wait on them. I am not saying it's right, I am just saying everyone dos it in some small way.

Dave McClure from Worcester, UK on December 20, 2009:

"It might be very simple to explain that all people who look like us are good and people who look some other way are bad, but this would be false. It is far better to explain that you cannot judge whether someone is good (or intelligent or sentient) by appearance. You must judge him by the way he behaves."

No-one is disputing that :)

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Tony, I agree with your last statement. It is still worth a try! I'm afraid we cannot change other people's minds using moral indignation, because when faced with another person's disapproval, most people will just dig in their heels. But if we offer to engage them in a civilized debate, they just might change their mind.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on December 20, 2009:

Absolutely. I was just commenting on the idea that teaching people not to use racila (or other) slurs is "just etiquette." The slurs can be hurtful and as you say, if unchallenged, can become part of a person's reality. A child using such a slur is a teachable moment which has much deeper possibilities than "just etiquette." But I will still express indignation at the expression of racism. At a certain level I don't give a toss what somebody's opinion of another race is, but I do care very much if they express that opinion in a hurtful and insulting way. I might not be able to help them change their opinion but I sure as hell don't want them to contribute to perpetuation of racism by their behaviour. And to a racist, unfortunately, the offering of a "counterexample in a logical or reasonable tone" is often worse than useless as their prejudice won't allow them to consider the counterexample. There will always be some justification for the prejudice. It's a little like showing a person who denies the reality of evolution as a scientific explanation of the diversity of life a series of for example fossil evidence and they will just say that science is mistaken, the evolution explanation cannot be right. So in a way logical and reasonable arguments unfortunately just backfire on those trying to use them But it is still worth the try.

Love and peace


Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Sufidreamer, thanks for stopping by!

I still maintain that there is a truth, and the truth will set us free. Since there is no direct pipeline to the truth, the best way to arrive at a close approximation is to constantly review the evidence of our senses. The texts with ridiculous statements about Africans being subhuman are bad because they are false. The evidence and the facts are enough to refute those statements. We don't need any other ethical imperative.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Its Angel, thanks for your comment and for the story about your friend who is a pilot in the Navy. What a great example!

I think all forms of prejudice are ugly, if a person refuses to consider counterexamples. We all have misconceptions. That's nothing to be ashamed of. But not being willing to consider the evidence is shameful.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Tonymac, when we teach our children not to use slurs, we are teaching politeness. There is nothing wrong with politeness. But if that's all we teach, the child will assume (correctly) that this does not negate the truth behind the slur. So, if and when a child expresses a racist or prejudiced opinion in private, it is better not to simply silence him, but rather to address the ideas behind the prejudice. Offering counterexamples in a logical and reasonable tone is better than simply expressing indignation against the expression of racism.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Paraglider, if a rule is statistical in nature, then the statistical part of it should be stated overtly. Thus there can be no misunderstanding. In linguistics, rules are stated as absolutes, and only when you bring up a counterexample do the propounders of the rule mention statistics. They then go back to their absolute formulation, thinking they have laid the counterexample to rest.

I agree that explanations for very young children should be simple -- but simplicity does not require false premises. It might be very simple to explain that all people who look like us are good and people who look some other way are bad, but this would be false. It is far better to explain that you cannot judge whether someone is good (or intelligent or sentient) by appearance. You must judge him by the way he behaves.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 20, 2009:

Hummingbird, thanks! You are right. We cannot change anyone else's mind, but we can hope that by our example they will be inspired to change their own mind!

Sufidreamer from Sparti, Greece on December 20, 2009:

Interesting Hub, Aya - it has given me much food for thought. A very good angle on the science and ethics - I think that you are right in saying that ethics cannot be scientifically investigated, although many fields of science must be 'ethically investigated.'

Just adding to Tony's point, have you read some of the scientific and psychology texts from the beginning of the twentieth century? Africans were 'of lower intellect' and called 'barbaric savages' - that is one of the many reasons why scientists need to constantly evaluate their ethical foundations and prejudices.

As for Bow - I have sympathy with you - science has to have some inbuilt skepticism to keep pseudoscientists out, but this often results in perfectly good research being sidelined, too. Hopefully, your work, along with Kanzi, may be the foundations of a paradigm shift - sadly, that is a slow process :(

Its Angel from Charleston, SC on December 20, 2009:

This is such a great hub. I think everyone has a little prejudice in them. Men still think women drivers are the worse, I have a friend who is a captian in the US Navy a fighter pilot no less, A uh, gentlemen cut her off on a main thoroughfare, causing her to cut off the person in the next lane to get out of his way, and somehow (we are still not sure how) they all collided. The two men in the other car know how the collision occurred and why. The one man who cut her off in the first place thereby causing the accident shook his head and said disgustedly (remember this women flies a 65 billion dollar plane loaded with enough firepower to take out the city of Kabul,) "Women just shouldn't be allowed to drive". We just looked at each other she and I, what can you do?

Prejudices and Racism I think are two different things we are all prejudice about certain things, but Racism is ugly.

I am not saying prejudiceis all right, it's not:just that we all have them.

Racism now, thats a different thing. Racism is prejudices turned ugly. Racism is hatred, hate crimes and other horrendous things.That what has to be eradicated, and how? I don't know.It is so ingrained to our culture I am not sure we can.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on December 20, 2009:

Good Hub - but I would like to add to this statement: "How can we combat prejudice? Can we do this by telling people to "be nice"? Do we teach them not to use racial slurs or to betray their deep seated assumptions? No, that's just etiquette." It's not about "just etiquette" it's about appropriate use of language and sensitivity to other people. If I as parent allow my child to use derogatory language about a person based on things over which that person has no control - their hair colour, gender, race or disability - then I am allowing my child to grow up with the understanding that such prejudice is OK. That's exactly how racism, which as you say, is a form of prejudice, is perpetuated in society, with such disastrous consequences.

A prejudice in science might have serious consequences, but a prejudice perpetuated in society as racism, sexism, anti-women etc is disastrous, and can literally kill people.

Thanks for sharing

Love and peace


Dave McClure from Worcester, UK on December 20, 2009:

Aya - a couple of things: A single instance disproves a rule in a deterministic field only. In the social sciences, the rules are statistical. If someone believes the rule begins "All men, etc" that person is in error in his formulation (or understanding) of the rule.

And, in fairness (since it was me), my point was that very young children do not need to understand the different definitions of human and person at the very beginning of their introduction to ethical concepts. You can't allow for everyone's pet nicety or else you will never be able to escape infinite regress. Start simple, complicate later, as required.

The ethics/etiquette distinction is a good theme to explore. Nice idea.

Hummingbird5356 on December 20, 2009:

Thanks again for a good hub. I have found many of these things to be so,too. People make too many assumptions without actually knowing what they are talking about. It is these who are more certain they are right than someone who knows the facts. We cannot change anyone´s opinions, just try to be open minded ourselves.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on December 19, 2009:

Hot Dorkage, thanks! Hoping to be proven wrong and being open to that possibility is what it's all about!

hot dorkage from Oregon, USA on December 19, 2009:

I love your last paragraph. I, like everyone else, make predictions based on observed patterns. We have to. We can't possibly analyze each person we encounter as an individual. Maybe if there were less people.... But here's the deal. When I encounter a member of any other group, I predict that they are going to think a certain way about me. And usually they do. But I am always hoping to be proven wrong!

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