Is Prejudice Really the Child of Ignorance?
By Fatima Salim Khawaja

July 16, 2009

I read the quote by William Hazlitt - ‘Prejudice is the child of ignorance’ – and I couldn’t help but think: is he really blaming nature for human bias? Had the literary legend actually dared to challenge the glorious and magnificent system of the Almighty by saying that the only reason one is prejudiced is because he doesn’t know any better? That nature is flawed and that this is how it’s intended to be, but that we humans, who are somehow above nature, teach ourselves tolerance through knowledge and education? I’m highly appalled, and beyond shocked at the ghastly claims. As Harry Bridges has so rightly said:

‘No man has ever been born a Negro hater, a Jew hater, or any other kind of hater. Nature refuses to be involved in such suicidal practices.’

Prejudice is in no way, never has been, and never will be, the so-called “child” of ignorance. Sure! Ignorance is indeed the root cause of most evils, but bigotry certainly does not make the list. In fact, ignorance about something makes you respect it even more, so how can it possibly be the origin of discrimination and revulsion?

It’s high time the real culprit behind prejudice is apprehended: US! Research of decades has now come to prove that any and all types of chauvinism is “learnt” from society, “inherited” from family, and “propagated” by the media, and in no way whatsoever is education, or the lack of it, even remotely connected to the presence of prejudice in one’s mind.

Bias takes numerous forms; discrimination, sexism, racism, genocide, scape-goating, stereotyping, demagogues, and propaganda amongst others. One of the basic causes of these is that they are taught to the impressionable child by his elders, parents, and general society by their behaviour, their attitudes, and their opinions. It’s a trickle effect. A 5-year old does not know that a Pakistani is “good” and an Indian is “bad” unless and until the concept is ingrained in his brain and thoughts by what he hears, sees, and experiences about him. Dennis Leary also very eloquently said:

Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught.

Similarly, another cause of prejudice is misinformation by the media. Only a fool would dare to deny the powerful influence that media has on today’s hearts and minds. Whoever controls the media, controls all. From filtered and screened information, to bending of truths, to all-out lies; who knows the difference any more? We have become but humble slaves of what we are told and there is nothing we really “can” do, except believe what is being told. If the news propagates that Shiites are hunting down Sunnis (or vice-versa), who will challenge that to be actually true or not? Nobody! But the seed of hate and resentment is planted non-the-less and ultimately it will grow, bloom, and take over the thoughts, opinions, and actions of the listener and he will become part of the biased lot, who will breed even more prejudiced individuals onto the face of the planet.

Then yet another origin of prejudice is Competition. Yes, competition at the extreme level can be the deadliest of motivators. From sibling rivalry to gang wars, the roots of it all go back to competition for attention, success, and money. And often, that competition ends up taking the shape of a permanent grudge. Brother against sister will end-up in sexism. A minority community subjugated by the majority will end-up in discrimination. And all these factors work in vicious cycles. A prejudiced man will father a prejudiced son, who in turn, will do the same.

It’s high time we took responsibility of our actions and stop trying to blame it on forces beyond our control. Prejudice is real. It exists. And we, alone, are guilty of it. Change yourself, and eventually, you will change the world. As James Allen said:

‘Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.’


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