The Nature of Prejudice



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The Nature of Prejudice

Featuring Material from:

Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979


Framework

Man is not born prejudiced; rather, prejudice is learned. By its very nature, prejudice denies individual human dignity and breaks the fundamental unity among people. Gordon W. Allport defines prejudice as a hostile attitude or feeling toward a person solely because he or she belongs to a group to which one has assigned objectionable qualities. Allport stresses that this hostile attitude is not merely a hasty prejudgment before one knows the facts. It is a judgment that resists facts and ignores truth and honesty. Thus, prejudice blinds one to the facts and creates a kind of poison in a relationship. Although prejudice in daily life is ordinarily a matter of dealing with individual people, it also entails unwarranted ideas concerning a group as a whole. Negative religious, ethnic, or racial prejudice (based on grouping by religion, nationality, or race) is an antipathy based on faulty and inflexible generalization or stereotyping. According to Allport, it may be felt or expressed, and it is directed toward a group as a whole or toward an individual because he or she is a member of that group. Religious, ethnic, or racial prejudice persists for several reasons. Prejudice gives an individual a false sense of identity and self-worth; that is, a person may discriminate against others to make himself feel more powerful and to elevate his own self-esteem. Also, categorization and stereotyping often offer a convenient scapegoat for individual or group problems.

Prejudice, then, is generally the way one thinks or feels about a particular person or group. Discrimination is acting on that negative prejudice. Allport further explains that negative prejudice and discrimination are expressed in escalating levels of violence. These escalating levels of discrimination move from spoken abuse to genocide in the following order:

1. Spoken Abuse (which he calls Antilocution)

2. Avoidance

3. Discrimination or Legalized (Institutionalized) Racism

4. Violence Against People and Property

5. Extermination or Genocide (the systematic attempt to destroy an entire people)

 Allport contends that minor forms of prejudice such as spoken abuse have a way of growing into more virulent and destructive forms of discrimination and violence. In the following excerpts from The Nature of Prejudice, author Gordon Allport identifies the problem of prejudice, describes the escalating levels of violence associated with prejudice, and defines the meaning of scapegoat in ancient and modern society.

The following excerpts have been taken from:

THE NATURE OF PREJUDICE
By Gordon W. Allport

Copyright (c) 1979, 1958, 1954.  Reprinted by permission of Perseus Books Publishers,
a member of Perseus Books. L.L.C.

From: "What is the Problem?"



For myself, earth-bound and fettered to the scene of my activities, I confess that I do feel the differences of mankind, national and individual . . . I am, in plainer words, a bundle of prejudices—made up of likings and dislikings—the veriest thrall to sympathies, apathies, and antipathies.

Charles Lamb

In Rhodesia a white truck driver passed a group of idle natives and muttered, "They’re lazy brutes." A few hours later he saw natives heaving two-hundred pound sacks of grain onto a truck, singing in rhythm to their work. "Savages," he grumbled. "What do you expect?"

In one of the West Indies it was customary at one time for natives to hold their noses conspicuously whenever they passed an American on the street. And in England, during the war, it was said, "The only trouble with the Yanks is that they are over-paid, over-sexed, and over here."

Polish people often called the Ukrainians "reptiles" to express their contempt for a group they regarded as ungrateful, revengeful, wily, and treacherous. At the same time Germans called their neighbors to the east "Polish cattle." The Poles retaliated with "Prussian swine"—a jibe at the presumed uncouthness and lack of honor of the Germans.

In South Africa, the English, it is said, are against the Afrikaner; both are against the Jews; all three are opposed to the Indians; while all four conspire against the native black.

In Boston, a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church was driving along a lonesome road on the outskirts of the city. Seeing a small Negro boy trudging along, the dignitary told his chauffeur to stop and give the boy a lift. Seated together in the back of the limousine, the cleric, to make conversation, asked, "Little Boy, are you a Catholic?" Wide-eyed with alarm, the boy replied, "No sir, it’s bad enough being colored without being one of those things."

Pressed to tell what Chinese people really think of Americans, a Chinese student reluctantly replied, "Well, we think they are the best of the foreign devils." This incident occurred before the Communist revolution in China. Today’s youth in China are trained to think of Americans as the worst of the foreign devils.

In Hungary, the saying is, "An anti-Semite is a person who hates the Jews more than is absolutely necessary."

No corner of the world is free from group scorn. Being fettered to our respective cultures, we, like Charles Lamb, are bundles of prejudice.

From: "Acting Out Prejudice"

What people actually do in relation to groups they dislike is not always directly related to what they think or feel about them. Two employers, for example, may dislike Jews to an equal degree. One may keep his feelings to himself and may hire Jews on the same basis as any workers—perhaps because he wants to gain goodwill for his factory or store in the Jewish community. The other may translate his dislike into his employment policy, and refuse to hire Jews. Both men are prejudiced, but only one of them practices discrimination. As a rule discrimination has more immediate and serious social consequences than has prejudice.

It is true that any negative attitude tends somehow, somewhere, to express itself in action. Few people keep their antipathies entirely to themselves. The more intense the attitude, the more likely it is to result in vigorously hostile action.

We may venture to distinguish certain degrees of negative action from the least energetic to the most.

1. Antilocution. Most people who have prejudices talk about them. With like-minded friends, occasionally with strangers, they may express their antagonism freely. But many people never go beyond this mild degree of antipathetic action.

2. Avoidance. If the prejudice is more intense, it leads the individual to avoid members of the disliked group, even perhaps at the cost of considerable inconvenience. In this case, the bearer of prejudice does not directly inflict harm upon the group he dislikes. He takes the burden of accommodation and withdrawal entirely upon himself.

3. Discrimination. Here the prejudiced person makes detrimental distinctions of an active sort. He undertakes to exclude all members of the group in question from certain types of employment, from residential housing, political rights, educational or recreational opportunities, churches, hospitals, or from some other social privileges. Segregation is an institutionalized form of discrimination, enforced legally or by common custom.

4. Physical attack. Under conditions of heightened emotion prejudice may lead to acts of violence or semi-violence. An unwanted Negro family may be forcibly ejected from a neighborhood, or so severely threatened that it leaves in fear. Gravestones in Jewish cemeteries may be desecrated. The Northside’s Italian gang may lie in wait for the Southside’s Irish gang.

5. Extermination. Lynchings, pogroms, massacres, and the Hitlerian program of genocide mark the ultimate degree of violent expression of prejudice.

This five-point scale is not mathematically constructed, but it serves to call attention to the enormous range of activities that may issue from prejudiced attitudes and beliefs. While many people would never move from antilocution to avoidance; or from avoidance to active discrimination, or higher on the scale, still it is true that activity on one level makes transition to a more intense level easier. It was Hitler’s antilocution that led Germans to avoid their Jewish neighbors and erstwhile friends. This preparation made it easier to enact the Nürmberg laws of discrimination which, in turn, made the subsequent burning of synagogues and street attacks upon Jews seem natural. The final step in the macabre progression was the ovens at Auschwitz.

From the point of view of social consequences much "polite prejudice" is harmless enough—being confined to idle chatter. But unfortunately, the fateful progression is, in this century, growing in frequency. The resulting disruption in the human family is menacing.  And as the peoples of the earth grow ever more interdependent, they can tolerate less well the mounting friction.

From: "Meaning of Scapegoat"

The term scapegoat originated in the famous ritual of the Hebrews, described in the Book of Leviticus (16:20-22). On the Day of Atonement a live goat was chosen by lot. The high priest, robed in linen garments, laid both his hands on the goat’s head, and confessed over it the iniquities of the children of Israel. The sins of the people thus symbolically transferred to the beast, it was taken out into the wilderness and let go. The people felt purged, and for the time being, guiltless.

The type of thinking here involved is not uncommon. From earliest times the notion has persisted that guilt and misfortune can be shifted from one man’s back to another. Animistic thinking confuses what is mental with what is physical. If a load of wood can be shifted, why not a load of sorrow or a load of guilt?



Nowadays we are likely to label this mental process projection. In other people we see the fear, anger, lust that reside primarily in ourselves. It is not we ourselves who are responsible for our misfortunes, but other people. In our common speech we recognize this failing in such phrases as "whipping-boy," "taking it out on the dog," or "scapegoat."



  1. In your own words, define scapegoat, prejudice, racism, and genocide.
     

  2. How is prejudice learned? How is prejudice passed from one generation to another?



  1. The Nazi regime institutionalized deep-seated prejudice against its perceived enemies of the State. How do avoidance and isolation foster fear of the unknown? How are ignorance, fear, prejudice, discrimination, and violence linked?
     

  2. What are some examples of spoken (oral) abuse in modern American society? Who are society’s "scapegoats" today?
     

  3. What is a "hate" crime and how might such a crime reflect the insidious nature of prejudice?
     

  4. Using contemporary American or world history, cite an example of each of the five escalating levels of prejudice presented by psychologist Gordon Allport in his book The Nature of Prejudice: 1) Spoken Abuse, 2) Avoidance, 3) Discrimination (Legalized Racism), 4) Physical Attack, and 5) Extermination.



  1. According to Gordon Allport, seemingly minor forms of prejudice can grow into more virulent forms of discrimination and violence. This transition becomes even more apparent upon examining the parallels between Allport’s levels of prejudice and the escalating levels of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that occurred during the Holocaust years. Using the timeline provided in Lesson 1, what are some examples of verbal abuse, avoidance, discrimination, and violence that mirror Allport’s escalation theory?
     

  2. Research the first phase of the Holocaust (1933-1939) and increasing levels of persecution and violence instituted over the course of this period. Investigate Nazi Germany’s embrace of the Aryan ideology and probe how the escalating nature pf such prejudice could lead to its ultimate expression in genocide.

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