Prejudice: A Worldwide Problem

Prejudice: A Worldwide Problem

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Prejudice: A Worldwide Problem
     There is a dangerous and often deadly problem in the world today. It reaches beyond political and religious boundaries and spans across all economic and social statuses. It affects the homeless, middleclass, and the richest people in society. The problem is prejudice.      In America, when we think of prejudice we often think of it in terms of Black and White. However, prejudice is much more than that. It is a broad term that can encompass things like racism, sexism, and religious persecution.
The Encarta World English Dictionary defines prejudice as "a preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes" and "the holding of opinions that are formed beforehand on the basis of insufficient knowledge". When I read those definitions, I have to wonder why prejudice still exists today. If it really is based on "insufficient knowledge", then it seems to me that there is no logical reason why prejudice is still so prevalent. Throughout our entire lives we are exposed to issues dealing with prejudice. In school we study history, geography, government, and psychology, and at some point in each of those subjects, the issue of prejudice is more than likely discussed. In the corporate world we attend countless classes and seminars on discrimination, and sensitivity training on issues that could be deemed prejudicial. The issues are well known and a vast amount of information is available on the subject, so how can "insufficient knowledge" and "preformed opinions" still be a factor? I believe it is because when we discuss prejudice or any other similar issue, we tend to discuss it at a societal level as opposed to a personal level. We discuss the history of prejudice and talk about things like slavery in America and Hitler's persecution of the Jews, but we never discuss the prejudice that we, as individuals, experience everyday. Certainly, no one would stand up in a classroom, point a finger at a student, and ask accusatively, "What act of prejudice did you commit today?" That would not be "politically correct". How then, can we bring this issue down to a personal level?
Someone once said to me, that if I didn't like jelly donuts, then I was prejudiced. The issue of whether or not I like jelly donuts is not an issue of prejudice, but rather a personal distaste for jelly donuts, based on the fact that I have tried several different types and determined that I do not like them.

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When we speak of prejudice, we are not talking about dislikes or personal preferences that have some foundation based on experience or knowledge. If a man states that he does not like a certain race or ethnic group "just because", then that is an obvious form of prejudice against that group. In this example, no one gets hurt and no real damage is done. The problems start when individuals, groups, and even nations make important decisions and take some action based on a prejudicial notion. The result can be hate-crimes, division of society, and even war.
     E. B. White, an American author, said, "Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts." The facts are available, however, most people simply do not take the time to gather information before they develop an unfavorable "preformed opinion". Generally, people tend to rely on information from people they trust, like their parents, who may themselves have a "preformed opinion" or a lack of knowledge about a particular subject. These opinions are passed on from generation to generation, often in the form of simple, unintentional comments made in the presence of children. For example, my father, a man with a master's degree in education, who has the resources to get enough information to make an informed decision about any subject; while driving, would often make a comment like, "look at this idiot in front of me, he must be black". It later came as no surprise to me to hear my both, my uncle and my grandfather, shout out the very same phrase when confronted with an inconsiderate or inexperienced driver. Every time I heard my father make a comment like that one, it baffled me. I know that my father is not prejudiced or racist, but whenever he was frustrated with the driver in front of him, in spite of his many years of education, he simply repeated the phrase he had learned from his father. Fortunately, in my family, that was the most severe form of prejudice that I ever experienced while growing up.
     Sadly, that is not the only personal experience I have had with prejudice. My career, both in the military and in the civilian sector, has taken me to many different parts of the world. I previously worked in the Middle East for several years and had the opportunity to work in Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was during this time that I witnessed and experienced prejudice much more severe than during my childhood. Working in both countries offered me a unique perspective of the prejudice and other tensions that exist; one that most of the citizens of those countries would never experience.
     While working in Israel, through contact with Israeli citizens of all ages, I started to understand and gain an appreciation for their beliefs that Israel is surrounded by nations that hate it and all that it stands for. They feel that they live under a constant threat of invasion from their neighboring countries, thus dedicating massive resources towards a strong defense. I cannot imagine how a Jewish child feels knowing that so many people hate him simply because of his religion and birthplace. I constantly hear prejudiced comments towards Israel or Judaism from people who have never left the United States or have never spoken to an Israeli citizen. Does my experience and understanding of the situation make me Pro-Israeli or Anti-Arab? No, certainly not, however, I at least have enough information and some personal experience to make an informed decision and form my own opinion and beliefs.
     During the time that I worked in Saudi Arabia, I gained a much greater appreciation for the impact that prejudice can have on society and especially on an individual. My job involved working with and training the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces. I worked directly with many senior military officers that expressed to me, almost on a daily basis, that they hated the Jews and many said they hated Americans as well. I always asked why and was usually told something along the lines of "they are no good" or "look at their history". There was one Major, who was always happy to share with me, his distaste for anyone that was not Saudi. When he would tell me that he hated the Jews for some particular reason, I would always ask if he had ever met anyone who was Jewish. He said, "I don't need to. I know it in my heart and in my mind." I pointedly asked him if he was prejudiced, to which he simply replied, "No".
     Living in Saudi Arabia can be like taking a step back in time. The laws, traditions, and religious customs will no doubt be a shock most westerners arriving for the first time. While living there, I often compared the current culture in Saudi Arabia to the American culture of 200 years ago. There are many similarities between the two. Since I was not a Saudi citizen, I always felt like I was treated like a third class citizen. I had no rights or privileges. I was not allowed to buy a car, open a bank account, or travel outside of the city I worked in, unless I had prior approval from my sponsor. I was once involved in a traffic accident for which I was found to be 100 percent at fault, simply because I was American and the other driver was Saudi. For that same accident, I was taken to the local jail and told that I would not be released until a Saudi national from my company arrived to "sign" for me. I was told that since I was American, I could not be trusted and that I would probably try to flee the country without paying for my crime. I was astonished! How could anyone come to a conclusion like that without personally knowing me?
     It was from that moment on that I realized how we bring the issue of prejudice down to a personal level. We must experience it for ourselves.

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