The Nature of Prejudice

Have you ever been in a situation in which you were talking with a few people at a social gathering and heard one of them make a racial or religious slur? Maybe you were at a party, chatting with a small group, when suddenly one of them says, 'Well, you know how those Jews are, they're all alike.'

What would you say under those circumstances? Would you wait to see the reaction of others? Would you laugh if those around you began to laugh? Would you chastise the person who made the remark? The nature of prejudice is such that the person who makes a bigoted comment in front of others generally assumes that they are as narrow—minded as he is. Sadly, the need to identify with the group causes some people to keep quiet or openly agree. The question is; why do some people feel the need to devalue others?

Psychologists tell us it's because they are so insecure that they need to find someone to look down on in order to feel superior. How about those men who become practically homicidal if a gay man looks at them admiringly? I've heard guys say, 'If one of 'them' ever winked at me, I'd break his (expletive) jaw.'

My response has always been, 'Why? What are you afraid of? Could it be you doubt your own masculinity?' After all, if you feel confident about your own sexuality, competence and gender identification, why become offended? I don't know of any gays who are forcing their intentions on straight men.

Of course, those who engage in prejudicial behavior toward others feel justified as long as they can point to traits that are 'different' from the majority. A bigot will always find physical or behavioral characteristics that he can use to stereotype 'those people' he wants to demean.

"African—Americans are lazy, they lack ambition and they're intellectually inferior!" Have you ever heard that one? Now, imagine being black and having to listen to that characterization for most of your life. Not only might it become a self—fulfilling prophesy, but blacks might find themselves struggling to perform better at activities that are less intellectually challenging. They might focus on and become better at physical feats such as boxing, basketball and football.

Then, after they've achieved high levels in sporting competition, their antagonists can say it's because they don't have the brains to do anything else. When you submit that there are countless numbers of black physicians, lawyers, scientists, scholars, etc., the bigot will say they are exceptions to the rule or they got there because of Affirmative Action programs.

Keep in mind, if you feel small, you may be trying to find someone smaller in order to make you feel bigger.

I was chatting with a bunch of guys at a party one night. All but one of us knew each other pretty well. One guy, new to the group, began talking about Puerto—Rican women. He said something to the effect that they are inclined to recline, so to speak. The other guys looked away or quickly tried to change the subject.

'Really?' I said. 'Well, my wife is Puerto—Rican; do you include her in that stereotype?'

The guy's face paled with a mixture of fear and embarrassment. He began a pathetic attempt at an apology, but, feeling it was an experience he should remember, I frowned and waved it off as I, and others, meandered away toward another part of the room. Sure, I could have merely let it go, figuring the guy was a jerk. But, then he would not have learned anything about injecting his biases into a social context. I've always believed in the importance of challenging bigots in such situations, if only to instill in them that they never know whom they might be offending.

A similar situation occurred when I teamed up with a black cop during my early years with NYPD. One day, while in the muster room before the tour began, a white cop said, 'Hey, Weir, how do you like working with a nigger?'

My response was, 'Well, big mouth, my partner's in the next room. Why don't you go in there and say that to his face?'

He didn't, and he never used that word around me again. Incidentally, he ended up in prison for extreme brutality against a black prisoner, proving that some people never learn.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob

Have you ever been in a situation in which you were talking with a few people at a social gathering and heard one of them make a racial or religious slur? Maybe you were at a party, chatting with a small group, when suddenly one of them says, 'Well, you know how those Jews are, they're all alike.'

What would you say under those circumstances? Would you wait to see the reaction of others? Would you laugh if those around you began to laugh? Would you chastise the person who made the remark? The nature of prejudice is such that the person who makes a bigoted comment in front of others generally assumes that they are as narrow—minded as he is. Sadly, the need to identify with the group causes some people to keep quiet or openly agree. The question is; why do some people feel the need to devalue others?

Psychologists tell us it's because they are so insecure that they need to find someone to look down on in order to feel superior. How about those men who become practically homicidal if a gay man looks at them admiringly? I've heard guys say, 'If one of 'them' ever winked at me, I'd break his (expletive) jaw.'

My response has always been, 'Why? What are you afraid of? Could it be you doubt your own masculinity?' After all, if you feel confident about your own sexuality, competence and gender identification, why become offended? I don't know of any gays who are forcing their intentions on straight men.

Of course, those who engage in prejudicial behavior toward others feel justified as long as they can point to traits that are 'different' from the majority. A bigot will always find physical or behavioral characteristics that he can use to stereotype 'those people' he wants to demean.

"African—Americans are lazy, they lack ambition and they're intellectually inferior!" Have you ever heard that one? Now, imagine being black and having to listen to that characterization for most of your life. Not only might it become a self—fulfilling prophesy, but blacks might find themselves struggling to perform better at activities that are less intellectually challenging. They might focus on and become better at physical feats such as boxing, basketball and football.

Then, after they've achieved high levels in sporting competition, their antagonists can say it's because they don't have the brains to do anything else. When you submit that there are countless numbers of black physicians, lawyers, scientists, scholars, etc., the bigot will say they are exceptions to the rule or they got there because of Affirmative Action programs.

Keep in mind, if you feel small, you may be trying to find someone smaller in order to make you feel bigger.

I was chatting with a bunch of guys at a party one night. All but one of us knew each other pretty well. One guy, new to the group, began talking about Puerto—Rican women. He said something to the effect that they are inclined to recline, so to speak. The other guys looked away or quickly tried to change the subject.

'Really?' I said. 'Well, my wife is Puerto—Rican; do you include her in that stereotype?'

The guy's face paled with a mixture of fear and embarrassment. He began a pathetic attempt at an apology, but, feeling it was an experience he should remember, I frowned and waved it off as I, and others, meandered away toward another part of the room. Sure, I could have merely let it go, figuring the guy was a jerk. But, then he would not have learned anything about injecting his biases into a social context. I've always believed in the importance of challenging bigots in such situations, if only to instill in them that they never know whom they might be offending.

A similar situation occurred when I teamed up with a black cop during my early years with NYPD. One day, while in the muster room before the tour began, a white cop said, 'Hey, Weir, how do you like working with a nigger?'

My response was, 'Well, big mouth, my partner's in the next room. Why don't you go in there and say that to his face?'

He didn't, and he never used that word around me again. Incidentally, he ended up in prison for extreme brutality against a black prisoner, proving that some people never learn.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob