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Monday, October 25, 2010

CHAPTER 2: Discrimination, Stereotyping and Prejudice: Understanding Through Direct Experience

As promised, here is the second chapter in our series about discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice.  Stay tuned for Chapters 3, 4 , 5 and 6, at two-weekly intervals.
A STEREOTYPE is a fixed perception, belief, paradigm, attitude and/or generalisation about yourself, others, a concept, a place or an event.

A STEREOTYPE has the following ADVANTAGES:
a)         Helps you create boundaries
b)         Assists you to make sense of your world
c)         Serves as a base for your behaviours and actions.

A STEREOTYPE also has the following DISADVANTAGES:
a)         Can block or distort your view of reality or the truth
b)         May seriously hamper communication and co-operation
c)         Can foster aggression and promote competition
d)         May give rise to PREJUDICE and DISCRIMINATION

Bear in mind that since we all belong to specific groups, it is easy to compare our group to other groups and favour the one we belong to.  Whenever any stereotype becomes staid and inflexible and your actions/words arising from them hurt, disadvantage or injure others, you are guilty of discrimination and prejudice.

Some important points to remember are :

  •  Recognise that your deeply held beliefs/attitudes and in particular your religious convictions may significantly influence your perceptions and behaviours towards other groups/people.  It is not a matter of having to  change your deeply held values or convictions but rather to learn to disagree gracefully.  To do this you need to develop the capacity to hold and respect opposing points of view at the same time.  Just as a sieve cannot hold water unless it is immersed in it, you too will not capture the essence of valuing diversity unless you are prepared  to immerse all of you, mind, heart, body and spirit in the process.
  • Bear in mind that many seemingly harmless acts can be discriminatory.  Adverts, gossip, talk shows, articles and jokes may also fall into this category.
  • The three common roles associated with discrimination are the oppressor, the oppressed and the onlooker.  The  oppressor's role promotes a heightened sense of superiority, power, aggression, satisfaction and justification.The oppressed role engenders a sense of anger, fear, resentment, revenge, confusion, insecurity and disempowerment.  The onlooker's role is commonly associated with passive approval or disapproval, guilt, denial and/or confusion.  Note that role reversals can occur quickly and subtly particularly under emotionally charged circumstances.
  • Truly valuing diversity cannot be achieved by merely focusing on facts, figures, policies or intellectual reasoning.  Very often these may actually hinder what it is that people really need to address and where it is that they need to go together.  What is essential is to return to the heart of the matter or the roots of our common humanity.  Only from here do we begin to open up, dare to take off our masks and bring down the barriers, real or perceived, that we use to separate, isolate and alienate ourselves from others.
Jesse Jackson's quote : "The only justification for looking down on someone is when you are about to pick them up", constitutes a powerful antidote for prejudice and discrimination.

  • The natural order and the truth inherent in it are abundant with examples of the beauty of diversity.  A majestic tree has branches stretching out in different directions, with variations in shape, thickness and length.  All these different branches, leaves, flowers and fruit are intimately connected through the trunk and deeply rooted to the very same grounding source.  And so it is with the human race - our different branches of race, culture, gender, age, abilities and aspirations sculpt who we are and what we do in the world.  Diversity is a principle of life harmoniously manifested in the natural world amongst all life forms with the exception of human beings.  In order to heal the heart of diversity do we not need to reason and act with deep connection to the truth which lies in the nature of things?
  • A wider more spiritual sense of compassion, tolerance and brotherhood is an essential tool in dealing with acts of prejudice, discrimination and violence.
  • Common issues/questions that surface in diversity learningshops are: constitutionalised discrimination; feelings of historical woundedness; remaining victimised by internalised racism; what does it mean to be an ally?; will you support us in tough times?; the guilt and shame of discriminators; the privileged group never have to think about being White, heterosexual, Christian or male; is it safe to hold my deep assumptions up for examination?
  • In a prejudiced state we filter out, ignore or are blind to any positive or valuable traits or characteristics in a person/group.
  • Anger and disagreement should not arise from a prejudice or stereotype but from a specific situation or circumstance.
  • To counter prejudice we must:
  1. Meet people as unique individuals.
  2. Walk in other people's shoes.
  3. Become more aware.
  4. Consciously be aware of our stereotypes and how they may impact on others

  • So much of the human wisdom and expertise about health, holism and community living is embodied in the world's different cultures.  Unless we meaningfully communicate and interact with people who are different from us, our perceptions will become less robust, our concerns too insular and our vision stale.
  • Preserving and nurturing diversity in all its manifestations may constitute one of the most significant challenges of our time.  A new appreciation for the power and integrity of our collective heritage, collaborative action on behalf of common goals and new approaches to cultural healing and social entrepreneurship will only be achieved when our focus shifts from the mere exchange of information to a real heartfelt commitment to building authentic community and valuing diversity.

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