Thursday, October 15, 2009
A Theory of Prejudice
A Theory of Prejudice: What is it about preferential thinking that makes people categorize others into social groups? The answer may reside with the difference(s) between familiarity and strangeness. Of course, there is the old cliché that familiarity breeds contempt; but on a more instinctive basis, strangeness also spawns antagonism. It appears the two basic emotions that stem from familiarity and strangeness are hatred and anger (as opposed to kindness and curiosity). According to American psychologist, Gordon Allport, "anger is a transitory emotional state" while "hatred is more deep-rooted" with an element of permanence. Building on this distinction, Aristotle alluded to the idea that "anger is customarily felt toward individuals only, whereas hatred may be felt toward whole classes of people." Such a claim is particularly evident in the experiences of young children. The "doll experiments" of Kenneth and Mamie Clark, which served as evidence in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, helped to explain the ingrained nature of racial prejudice in school children. For both black and white students, the white dolls consistently proved more appealing. With a proper (integrated) education, however, these kinds of preferential thoughts can be mitigated over time.