Prejudice is a cognitive predisposition that allows society to preserve a social or economic inequality, by promoting a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience. These preconceived opinions can be favorable or unfavorable. The purpose of these predetermined ways of thinking help to generalize a view of a particular group and/or to simplify difficult or complex decisions without direct reason. In addition, by allowing these unjustified notions to hover over a group, instead of treating “individuals” based on their individual behavior, allows others to take advantage of the illogical behavior to punish innocent people or put themselves in a position of power. For example, during the Salem Witch Trials 150 individuals found themselves accused of witchcraft. By the time the witchcraft paranoia, ended 19 people would lose their lives. Subsequent historical research has found that many of the later accusations of witchcraft came about due to petty jealousies and ways to gain more land. People took advantage of the hysteria and branding of people who did not show as much religious piety, to confiscate their land. This was because during this time if you confessed to witchcraft and repented, your life might be spared, but your land could be confiscated and bought cheaply by rivals.
Motives for Prejudice:
Higher Standing: For many of us, we benefit from the perpetuation of preconceived notions. To remove such ideas from society would cause us greater competition for our wants and desires. For example, if I were to ask most people who is the smarter student the 4.0 GPA scholar from Harvard University or the 4.0 GPA scholar from the University of Connecticut most people would make the assumption the Harvard student is smarter. Now in this example, I have given no other information about the two students, and in fact, it is entirely possible the student from Harvard is indeed the smarter student. However, the mere mention of Harvard University being associated with a student raises our expectations and gives this person an advantage when applying for jobs. Additionally, if the same firm hired both students, it is entirely likely the Harvard graduate would get access to better training more easily, or get more attention from higher ups as they would assume a greater upside. This is not to say the UConn student will not succeed or even do better than the Harvard student does, just that an ingrained prejudice exists in the workplace, which may make it harder for the UConn student to do as well.
Power: One of the greatest atrocities of our time was the extermination and brutalization of millions of people during World War II. Germany, who found itself mired in deep economic issues due in part to hyperinflation, and outstanding reparation payments (which they would later default on) as punishment for World War I helped lead to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler was able to convince his fellow citizens and allies of better times if they could rise up against their economic oppressors and “purify” their race.
Adolf Hitler was able to get away with his horrible acts because he was able to convince his people and several allies of a “superior race" theory. This superior race theory, that he spun, would help support Germany and its allies after they won the war he promised. This superior race, of which ironically Hitler would not belong, may have been the mental workings of a leader trying to convince people to go along with his atrocities. This promise of a better tomorrow allowed people to ignore common sense and give into an ideology that Hitler may not have actually believed. When one looks over his reign of terror, he first struck out against Poland. The selection of Poland as a target was more military in nature than for any reason to punish the 3,000,000 Jews in Poland at the time. The main reason for attacking Poland was to help shore up a steady food supply for the Nazi forces. In order for Germany to win a protracted war, they would need a ready supply of Food. Poland was an easy target, as they did not have the military to fight a prolonged battle and they had very fertile farm land. Once Germany began their invasion it was only a matter of weeks before Poland would eventually surrender. However, once Germany was in control of Poland and its food stuffs Hitler needed to make decisions on the maintenance of the farming and distribution of food supplies. This would mean making excuses for not sharing the food with the Poles. For this, his "superior race" ideology would come in handy. He convinced his allies that they needed to protect the mixing of the pure race, which gave him all the ammunition he needs to justify starving, killing and stealing from the various peoples of Europe. He would first banish the Jews of Poland to ghettos, and have the Christian Poles help man the farms. However, Hitler was not a supporter of the Polish Christians either. They were more a necessary evil to him for the time being. Hitler would later spread his beliefs on how to purify the races by turning on the Christians. By the time the war was over Hitler had convinced his people to go after several groups. The groups which were persecuted under the Nazi regime included the "Rhineland Bastard" which was a term the Germans used to called mixed race babies. Mixed Race children who were found were sterilized under Nazi control; Hitler also persecuted homosexuals, the Roma (which some refer to as gypsies), the disabled, the Jehovah's Witnesses (as the Jehovah Witnesses were one of the first groups to vocally speak out against Hitler and not back down); and others.
The sad thing was while many groups were initially under attack under Nazi rule, other groups sat idly by and did nothing. Some did nothing because they hoped they would come under the favor of the Nazi leader and so bought into the prejudice. However, when the wrath of the Nazi regime was turned on them they found fewer allies to help them. Some did not speak up until the end of the war because they were ashamed of all of the horrible things they had done, or stood idly by and allowed under Hitler's regime. Some probably thought if Hitler won the war that it might even justify their knowingly wrong actions, or at least that their actions would be minimized in the annals of history later.
Simplification of Thought/Safety: Many times prejudice comes down to a lazy way of thinking for us. The idea that we can simplify our lives and be safe by generalizing certain groups. Think about this for a minute: Have you ever heard someone say, “Do I look like the kind of person that would do that?” As if criminals or liars could, all neatly be categorized by looks. That being said many of us do just that. Have you ever listened to a television news report while in the other room and all of the sudden you hear, “Breaking news the police have arrested a carjacker, a pedophile, a drug smuggler, an illegal alien, etc?” Based on the type of crime listed did you have a particular gender in mind of the suspected criminal? What about the race? Did you think about whether the person was younger or older? What about ethnicity? If you did do not beat yourself up. Several studies have shown media bias in reporting. The media, whether consciously or unconsciously, reports the news in a fashion that promotes prejudicial thinking. Sadly, feeding people news, which satisfies their need for oversimplification, makes them feel safer. This is why new outlets, carefully choose their adjectives when describing individuals who committed the same crime. If I describe two situations involving teenagers fighting in a mall, see if you can get a mental picture of the teens. (1) A group of adolescents confronted the mall clerk and stole her money; versus (2) A female mall clerk was savagely beaten and robbed by a gang of teenage thugs. Both sentences detail a situation where a confrontation occurred involving an assault and robbery on a mall clerk. However, the second version of the events was written to purposely elicit a more angered response. Also, the use of certain adjectives in the second sentence was purposely selected because they are words commonly used by the media when describing males, African Americans, and organized criminal activities. You will notice that I specifically separated "males," "African-Americans," and "organized criminal activities" because the last sentence was supposed to bring about several prejudicial thoughts. I doubt many people thought the "gang of teenage thugs" included too many women, RIGHT? This is because prejudice is so pervasive that we sometimes are not aware of our many prejudices. Many people reading the second description, using words commonly associated with African-Americans when the media describes a criminal act, that we forget all of the other prejudices ingrained in our minds before we even have any facts about the perpetrator. For all, we know the attack could have been committed by a gang of Asian females who attend a junior high-school.
Conclusion: Prejudice is a notion that all of us have to some degree. However, we must be cognizant of our prejudices and how they affect our lives and the lives of others. It is easy for us to rationalize that its ok to be a little prejudice. My answer to that is this....since we all have a some prejudicial thought which are ingrained into us that it is ok to "recognize" that we are prejudice. However, it is how we "act" in society based on our beliefs which will determine the worth of ourselves. We must work to end the use of prejudgement thoughts as rationale for acting in an inappropriate manner, and we must speak up against those who perpetuate false thoughts. People want to be viewed as an "INDIVIDUAL." It is why we have names to distinguish us from one another. There are far too many instances of people being unfairly judged on the actions of others, because due to lazy thinking it is easy for us to compartmentalize them into a box and put them in this category. This diminishes us all because we do not get to see the true person. In fact, prejudice has a way of changing people into something they do not want to be. Like the old saying goes, "If you are going to treat me like a criminal, then I might as well have the joy of committing the crime." So Free your mind, meet a new friend and get to know the individual. Then maybe one day prejudice may end.