So, I went to a Chinese buffet with my father the other day for a thoroughly average meal. When we finished up, we got the standard fortune cookies. Mine said, “Prejudice is the child of an ignorant mind.” Is it really?
I don’t necessarily think so.
First, let’s define prejudice:
Main Entry: 1prej·u·dice
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praejudicium previous judgment, damage, from prae- + judicium judgment — more at judicial
Date: 13th century
1 : injury or damage resulting from some judgment or action of another in disregard of one’s rights; especially : detriment to one’s legal rights or claims
2 a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b : an instance of such judgment or opinion c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics
So, it basically means “pre-judgment.”
Let’s now say that you are a woman, and have grown up your entire life in a gang-run Latino shit hole neighborhood in San Francisco. Every day, on the way to school, middle-aged Latino men leer at you, call to you to “get friendly” with them. Every night, you sleep through the sounds of sirens and gunfire. Latino men try to “offer you rides home” in their cars. There is no escaping the shoulder to shoulder drug dealers. One by one, you watch your classmates, good, honorable, young Latino boys, get sucked into the gang life. At night you can hear your Latino neighbor beat his wife. You, as a white girl, can’t go out at night, or the Latino girls will beat you. From birth, this is your world.
Now, your mother has had enough, and sends you away to the small town east to live. She wants you out of that little slice of hell. You try to start a new life, make new friends, adjust to this new place.
What do you think your first thought will be the first time you see a Latino man approach you in this new world? Will you think he is just another man? Will you be at ease? It is a safe small town, after all. Or, will you think that he is just like the ones you grew up with?
That last option sounds like prejudice, doesn’t it? How about the one before it? It is a small, safe town, so you will feel at ease. Sounds nice, no? It is just as much a prejudice as the other option. One way, he is pigeon holed as just like every other Latino you have met. The other way, he is stereotyped into the small-town Andy Griffith noble country boy category. Pre-judgment.
I bet, that the first thought in your head will be that he is like all of the Latinos you grew up with. Is that true? Who knows? Who cares? Your entire life experience has only shown you violent, dangerous, lazy Latinos. It would not be ignorant to think this way. It would be your life experience, and your learning that took place as a child. If every time you touch a stove, you get burned, you learn that stoves are hot. If every time a Latino walks up to you, he offers you dope, tries to get some sex, or hurts you, you learn to avoid them. Old habits and lessons die hard.
Ignorance would be if you continued to hold your judgment after it was proven to be false. Some people may do that, but certainly not all. It is not ignorant to initially expect more of the same, only to be pleasantly surprised, and learn to like him. Neither is it wrong to learn that your initial judgment was true, and avoid him in the future. As long as you try to learn the truth and act on that, what does it matter what you first expected? We have gut feelings for a reason, it is human nature, a survival mechanism, not ignorance.