Groups build their identity by saying who they are. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when we go beyond a description of who we are and start to place judgment on who’s “more than” and who is “less than”, we get in trouble. We human beings are endlessly creative at coming up with these better than’s and less than’s. Therefore, we are limitless in how many prejudices we can have.
One way to identify your prejudices is to think of any group with which you identify –city dweller/country kid, athlete/theater person, smart/not interested in academics, Republican/Democrat. Then, identify any groups viewed as different from or in actual opposition to your group.
Trust me, if any group is seen as opposite or very different from your group, you will have been given some misinformation about them. Catholics have been given misinformation about Protestants and Protestants misinformation about Catholics. Young misunderstand old and old misunderstand young. Smokers think nasty thoughts about non-smokers and non-smokers say negative things about smokers.
What jokes do people tell about a neighboring state to yours? If you live in Minnesota, you know the Wisconsin jokes, but you don’t necessarily know what they say in Montana about people who live in Idaho. It’s almost like sibling rivalry. You’ll mock your brother or sister because they’re in close proximity and you’re defining yourself against them.
Groups also define themselves in part by who they are not – nothing wrong with that. It’s just when we start to rank who’s cool (us) and who’s not (them) that we get in trouble.
As a human being we have a limitless supply of prejudices. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get rid of our initial negative judgment about individuals or groups of people. Often we learned our stereotypes and prejudices when we were frightened and we can’t seem to stop that first emotional reaction that goes on inside of us.
However, here’s the good news: if we become conscious of our judgments, we can stop ourselves before we ever treat someone badly. That’s called managing your prejudice and that’s something you, all of us, can do.