Module 8. Our Way Forward
In Module 6, we examined three types of prejudice: cognitive (formulated by beliefs), affective (framed by disdain), and conative (expressed through discrimination). These and other forms of prejudice develop from a multitude of causes including personality, socialization, and historically fixed foundations in our social structure and institutions (Farley, 2010). Because the causes of prejudice are diverse and multi-dimensional, identifying a single solution to reduce societal bigotry is impossible.
The best approaches to reducing prejudice vary by person and context. For some, education and contact with minorities may improve understanding and compassion. Others may need a change in their social setting or environment to escape conformity and the peer pressure of intolerance. Certain people might require therapy to address the underlining personality issues causing narrow-minded thinking and behavior (Smith, 2006).
There are five major approaches to reducing prejudice. Each approach must be geared to a specific individual or situation. The effectiveness of each approach will depend on the techniques practiced and the type and causes of prejudice being addressed.
Stiff and Mongeau (2003) found persuasive communication such as written, oral, audiovisual, and other forms of communication effectively influence people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. If persuasive communication is directly aimed at reducing prejudice, then results reduce prejudicial thinking and behavior. Change occurs when the following conditions are present (Flowerman, 1947; Hovland et al., 1953; McGuire, 1968, Farley, 2010). First, the audience or receiver must be attentive, and the communication or message must be heard. This condition is challenging to overcome because many people have learned to avoid or ignore persuasive communications including advertising, political messages, and propaganda. Second, the audience or receiver must understand or comprehend the communication that prejudice is immoral and harmful. Third, the communication must be received in a positive way or through a positive experience to reinforce discontinuing prejudice as a good idea. Lastly, the audience or receiver must internalize and retain the message to eliminate prejudice. According to Triandis (1971), these conditions are met when those delivering the communication are credible and respected, the content and dissemination of the message are conveyed appropriately at the right time, place, and setting, and the characteristics of the audience are open to the idea of reducing prejudice because prejudice has no psychological or emotional function for them. Therefore, persuasive communication is most effective for people who are unprejudiced or least prejudiced.
Education is an enlightening experience focused on human development. Learning either formally in school or informally enhances growth, development, and understanding by such activities as reading, viewing, and reflection. Education facilitates learning by teaching information including rights, duties, and moral obligations of humanity. Schooling and instruction about intergroup relations helps people breakdown stereotypes and reduces prejudice through simulation and experiential exercises (Lewin, 1948; Fineberg, 1949; Farley, 2010). For example, role-playing activities help students view situations from another person’s perspective, building empathy and understanding about the injustices and inequalities some people confront or face.
Intergroup learning occurs best with impartial teachers, the inclusion of minority role models, non-discriminatory practices, and curriculum free of stereotypical portrayals of minorities (Lessing and Clarke, 1976; Farley, 2010). Dovidio and Gaertner (1999) found educational programs are effective in reducing prejudice when they provide wide-ranging information about minority groups and their members. Some common techniques that address prejudice are teaching facts about race and ethnic relations, imparting tolerance, interactive activities that replicate experiences and evoke real world situations, and intergroup contact.
The contact hypothesis suggests intergroup contact reduces prejudice by exposing people to minority group members. Intergroup contact allows people to discover the inaccuracies or errors in their thinking and understanding about others. Pettigrew (1998) found intergroup contact reduces prejudice by learning about the out-group and in-group, liking people in the out-group, and altering behavior.
Integrated social settings help people see that their stereotypes or fears about out-groups are unfounded (Farley, 2010). Intergroup contact is most effective in reducing prejudice when people involved share similar status and power, and no one can exercise dominance or authority over another. Additionally, contact should be noncompetitive and nonthreatening while inspiring interdependence and cooperation. It is important for contact to go beyond the superficial and work towards effectively changing the attitude regardless of situation or setting (Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis, 2002). When participants engage in intergroup contact, they develop appreciation for each other by listening and learning from each other, engage oneself to speak freely and discuss tough issues or subjects with others, critically self-reflect about power and privilege differences group members experiences, and build alliances to reduce intergroup inequalities (Nagda, 2006).
For some people, prejudice serves as a way to handle personal feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem (Farley, 2010). Individual and group therapy is the best approach to resolve personality problems leading to prejudice. Individual therapy centers on discovering unaddressed psychological issues of prejudice; however, group therapy is the most commonly used to reduce prejudice because it takes less time to create change in more people (Allport, 1954; Smith, 2006; Farley, 2010). Cognitive-behavioral therapy changes personality patterns to reduce prejudice. Rational-emotive therapy helps people develop social relationships by reducing anger and hostility. Researchers have found these forms of therapy include methods that work towards increasing self-acceptance decrease prejudice (Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck, and Vetter, 1998; Ellis, 1992; Fishbein, 1996; Farley, 2010).
As mentioned previously, experiential exercises including simulation activities are helpful in reducing prejudice. Experiential exercises, like the Privilege and Life Chances activity in Module 7, provide an opportunity for a learner to be exposed to a new condition or a wrong behavior (Armstrong, 1977). To reduce prejudice, these exercises are designed to simulate discrimination to inform people about the irrationality, psychological effects, and emotional consequences of prejudice and discrimination. This approach is often combined with others including education, intergroup contact, and therapy.
Experiential exercises are most effective with thorough discussion, debriefing, and reflection (Fishbein, 1996). Facilitation of the structured exercise centers the learner’s experience and ways to bring about change. This approach is valuable for reducing affective prejudice such as liking or disliking, reducing implicit bias, and encouraging people to take change-oriented action to address intergroup conflict and inequality (Lopez, Gurin, and Nagda, 1998; Farley, 210).
I am an African-American man who has never really understood how a person is wired to have prejudicial feelings toward someone simply because of color. I wasn’t brought up that way, and I’ve never bought into the idea that history or tradition is an excuse to behave that way.
Maybe it is because I was raised in a fairly sheltered environment growing up as an African-American child of the 60s; I somehow escaped having the “N” word tossed my way all the way through seventh grade. Maybe I owe it to my private Catholic school education, which kept me effectively cloistered from severe racial slurring incidents. Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that I was Black, and I instinctively sensed that there were parts of my hometown that I needed to avoid, on account that I didn’t look like others from those parts. So, I did. And before seventh grade was over, I transferred to a new school where I was very harshly introduced to the ‘N’ word and was reminded of it many times thereafter.
It seems we all cope with racial prejudice in our own way. Some of us deal with it politically, some spiritually, and others rather ignore it as something that hopefully “other people” will have to deal with, but certainly not “me.”
Some people retaliate against racial slurs with violence as it seems the only way to show both the offender and onlookers that the offense is intolerable and will not be tolerated, period. But what if the bigot is bigger and stronger than the subject of the bigotry? Then “whipping his a–” may not be an option to solve the issue. And no, putting a bullet between the offender’s eyes is not the answer either! It just doesn’t seem logical to serve a life sentence behind bars when you were the offended person to begin with.
Since my name is Daryl, not Dwayne Johnson, nor am I interested in shooting anyone, my way of dealing with this issue of race is to write about it, and hopefully you, will see that this racial prejudice business should be just as intolerable for anyone else as for me.
Truthfully, I don’t know if racial prejudice will ever totally be resolved. But I do know that it can be much reduced if the following things occur with increasing frequency:
- Racial slurs of any kind, against any race, or even within the same race should never occur, ever at any time. The idea of Blacks using the “N” word ourselves was apparently meant to diffuse the power of said word, but it was an ineffective strategy. It served only to confirm for many that we have a less than lofty view of ourselves ironically – for using the same word meant to offend us. As a former U.S. Air Force officer, I remember an occasion when I was stationed at a new base. Shortly after my arrival, one of my young black subordinates said to me “Hey, N______, it’s about time you showed up.” That did not occur again of course but looking back I can only roll my eyes in bewilderment and wonder. If Caucasians called each other “Honkeys,” it would seem no less absurd to me.
- We need to minimize telling racial jokes either openly or behind the backs of the race being joked about. This is a big one, and not an easy one for some people to let go of. But when everyone agrees that racial “jokes” are neither funny nor in good taste, we’ll take a big step toward racial harmony. When minorities are defended when no minority is present in the room, then a big step will have been taken toward cultural sensitivity. But as long as the practice of ethnic “jokes” continues, there will always be a secret discontent between races, each one secretly wondering if the other can really be trusted to have mutual respect behind closed doors.
- Schools need to continue taking active steps to promote diversity instruction that teaches accurate history about human trafficking and slavery that occurred over the years, and how that behavior led to where we stand now. There isn’t a single race, not one, that has not made grievous errors historically when it comes to treatment of even its own.
- Finally, we need honest, open discussions where young people feel safe sharing their thoughts regarding aspects of other cultures that they don’t understand, including differing facial features, skin color, language, personal expression, dress and music. But it can’t simply end there. The resultant bridging should be an understanding that different races celebrate and appreciate each other’s differences, not simply their own.
To close, this is not intended to be “Solving Racial Prejudice for Dummies,” nor “The End of Racial Prejudice 101”. And Heaven knows the four areas noted above will not be easy for some of us to do. And I know that some individuals will stubbornly put their foot down and refuse to budge because staying separate from people different from them is more comfortable for them, and it seems to make more sense to them. But in the long run, is it really better, or does it just seem to be?
Racial prejudice won’t end by attrition alone – maintaining a laissez-faire approach to this social problem, in essence waiting until all bigoted people somehow change or die, one by one. If that’s the case, I need to be cryogenically put to sleep for several hundred years. When I wake up, no doubt some of them will still be here waiting for me.
At the end of the day, it’s safe to say that many people of all races are simply weary of racial separatism, and long for a nation where there is a widespread commonality in being just fine with the fact that we are all different. I hope this affirms for many that there is truly hope that one day we will all – or at least most of us, bond together in unity. Our country is worth it.