The nature of prejudice

I wrote this a while ago and then decided not to post it. It was partly referring to something that had recently happened and I think I was slightly worried that those involved may work out (if they read this, which was probably unlikely) what I was referring to. Since some time has passed, I decided I would post this now.

Although I don’t believe I’ve ever been prejudiced against, I have been exposed to a lot of it during my life and the issue of prejudice in society is a topic that I do find interesting. I’m also not always convinced that it is understood, in general, as well as it should be. I should start by making it clear that I object extremely strongly to what I understand as prejudice: the act of people being disadvantaged primarily because of some characteristic beyond their control. Not only do I object to it on principle, I also feel that we as a society do not benefit from such behaviour. We should be taking advantage of all the skills and capabilities in our society, and not excluding some people purely because they differ in some largely irrelevant way.

However, I do sometimes get the sense that we confuse being prejudiced with simply disliking someone. Although I personally do not take any pleasure from being nasty to other people and try my best to avoid it, as far as I’m aware there is nothing wrong – both legally or morally – with people disliking other people and being unpleasant to them. Additionally, if someone wished to really annoy someone they didn’t like, they may choose to say something that refers to some characteristic that the other person feels sensitive about. If someone calls someone else a “skinny bastard”, does that imply that the first person is prejudiced against all skinny people. My gut feeling is that it doesn’t necessarily imply a prejudice, but may suggest that the first person is a fairly unpleasant individual – which may imply a tendency towards being prejudiced, but doesn’t prove it.

A caveat to the above is, however, that there are certain terms (that I would rather not repeat here) that we as a society have generally decided are inappropriate and so the use of them, even when directed at an individual, implies more than simply a dislike of that individual. With this caveat in mind, I still think that we have to be careful about confusing individual dislikes with genuine prejudice. What is important for our society is that we do our best to stamp out prejudice and make sure that no one is disadvantaged because of some largely irrelevant characteristic, and should avoid spending too much time and money worrying about individuals who just happen to dislike each other.

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