Prejudice and Discrimination​—Getting to the Roots

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”​—Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

DESPITE that lofty ideal, prejudice and discrimination continue to plague mankind. This sad fact reflects not only our times but also the imperfection of humans. (Psalm 51:5) Nevertheless, the situation is far from hopeless. Granted, we may be unable to eliminate the discrimination we see around us, but we can work to root out prejudices that may lodge within ourselves.

A good start is to acknowledge that none of us are above developing prejudices. The book Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination says: “Perhaps the most important conclusions to emerge from prejudice research are these: (1) no one capable of human thought and speech is immune from harboring prejudice, (2) it often takes deliberate effort and awareness to reduce prejudice, and (3) with sufficient motivation, it can be done.”

Education has been described as “the most powerful tool” in the fight against prejudice. The right education can, for example, expose the root causes of prejudice, enable us to examine our own attitudes more objectively, and help us deal wisely with prejudice when we are victims.

Getting to the Roots

Prejudice causes people to distort, misinterpret, or even ignore facts that conflict with their predetermined opinions. Prejudice may have its beginnings in seemingly innocent, but misguided, family values, or it may be sown by those who deliberately promote warped views of other races or cultures. Prejudice can also be fostered by nationalism and false religious teachings. And it can be a product of inordinate pride. As you reflect on the following points and on pertinent principles taken from the Bible, why not examine your own attitudes and see if changes are in order?

Associates. Humans are gregarious by nature, and this is a good thing. Indeed, the Bible says that “one isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing” and will even disregard  practical wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1) However, we should choose our associates wisely, for they can exert a powerful influence on us. Wise parents, therefore, take a deep interest in their children’s associates. Studies have shown that children as young as three years of age can develop racial biases, which they pick up from the attitudes, words, and gestures of others. Of course, parents themselves should do all in their power to be a good influence on their little ones, knowing that parental influence is usually the most powerful factor in shaping a child’s values.

What does the Bible say? “Start a boy [or girl] on the right road, and even in old age he will not leave it.” (Proverbs 22:6, The New English Bible) “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) If you are a parent, you might ask yourself: ‘Am I directing my children along a path that is true and just in the eyes of God? Do I associate with people who have a wholesome effect on me? Am I a good influence on others?’​—Proverbs 2:1-9.

Nationalism. One dictionary defines nationalism as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.” Ivo Duchacek, a professor of political science, observed in his book Conflict and Cooperation Among Nations: “Nationalism divides humanity into mutually intolerant units. As a result people think as Americans, Russians, Chinese, Egyptians, or Peruvians first, and as human beings second​—if at all.” A former UN secretary-general wrote: “So many of the problems that we face today are due to, or the result of, false attitudes​—some of them have been adopted almost unconsciously. Among these is the concept of narrow nationalism​—‘my country, right or wrong.’”

What does the Bible say? “God loved the world [all mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) Ask yourself, ‘If God’s love is impartial​—embracing people of all nations, including me—​should I not strive to imitate him, especially if I profess to reverence him?’

Racism. Racists believe “that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others,” says one dictionary. Yet, as is noted in The World Book Encyclopedia, researchers “have not discovered any scientific basis for such claims of [racial] superiority.” The gross injustices that racism fosters, such as people’s systematic denial of rights to fellow humans, are painful evidence that racism rests on falsehoods and fallacies.

What does the Bible say? “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) “[God] made out of one man every nation of men.” (Acts 17:26)  “Not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Ask yourself: ‘Do I try to see all humans as God does? Do I try to find out what others​—perhaps those of a different race or culture—​are really like by getting to know some of them personally?’ When we get to know people on a personal level, we more readily see through misleading stereotypes.

Religion. The book The Nature of Prejudice says: “Abominations inevitably result when men use their religion to justify [selfish pursuits] and ethnic self-interest. It is then that religion and prejudice merge.” What is especially striking, the same book observes, is how readily many religious people “seem to slip from piety into prejudice.” Evidence in support of those words is seen in racially exclusive churches, sectarian hatred and violence, and acts of terror inspired by religion.

What does the Bible say? “The wisdom from above [from God] is . . . peaceable, reasonable, . . . not making partial distinctions.” (James 3:17) “The true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and [religious] truth.” (John 4:23) “Love your enemies and . . . pray for those persecuting you.” (Matthew 5:44) Ask yourself: ‘Does my religion promote genuine love toward all, even toward those who may want to hurt me? Are the doors of my church open to people of all kinds, regardless of nationality, skin color, gender, income, or social status?’

Pride. In the form of inordinate self-esteem or haughtiness, pride can make a person more susceptible to prejudice. For example, pride can cause a person to be prone to feelings of superiority or disdain toward the less educated or the materially poor. It may also make him inclined to believe propaganda that elevates his national or ethnic group. Clever propagandists, such as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, have deliberately nurtured national and racial pride to rally the support of the masses and to malign those considered to be different or undesirable.

What does the Bible say? “Everyone that is proud in heart is something detestable to Jehovah.” (Proverbs 16:5) “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind [consider] that the others are superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) Ask yourself: ‘Do I take secret delight in flattering comments about my own race or ethnic group or in disparaging remarks about others? Am I inclined to be jealous of those who have talents that I lack, or do I take genuine delight in their abilities?’

Yes, for good reason the Bible cautions: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) So view your heart as truly precious, and let nothing corrupt it! Instead, fill it with godly wisdom. Then, and only then, will ‘thinking ability and discernment safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the person speaking perverse things.’​—Proverbs 2:10-12.

What, though, can you do if you are a victim of prejudice or discrimination? The next article looks into this matter.

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When we get to know people on a personal level, we more readily see through misleading stereotypes