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The Psychology of Prejudice

Updated: Aug 14

“I mean like people, who’s fighting and what for? Who’s fighting and what for? Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? We don’t want to fight. Come on!” - Mick Jagger Altamont 1969


In the wake of recent (well the most recent) violence to hit the States (I don’t say the United States, because let’s be honest, when was the last time we were united?) and the subsequent social media outrage I can’t help but hear Mick Jagger’s words running through my mind. No, I wasn’t there in Altamont in 1969, it would be 12 years until I made my presence on this earth, but I imagine he felt then a lot like I do now. My heart is breaking with all that we are doing to ourselves.


Before I receive my own backlash let me say this. I’m neither Republican nor Democrat; Conservative nor Liberal; Left nor Right. I’m pretty deeply independent, seeing both the truth and the vitriol coming from the two sides. I’m a praying man. There have been things that have happened in my life that I cannot in good and decent conscious write off as a coincidence. There is a God and I follow him. I’m not perfect. I don’t understand all of what Christianity is asking me to do. But I know the two most important commandments are to love God and to love my neighbor. That doesn’t mean IF they agree with my political, personal, spiritual, behavioral, and moral beliefs.


I have sat quietly because I have felt powerless. I have also been completely disgusted with all that I have seen. More and more I avoid what’s happening in the world because I’m completely overwhelmed by it. That hasn’t changed, but I must speak. I have sat analyzing and contemplating my words. As an introvert I must process and reprocess before I am ready to openly state my opinion.


We can blame Trump and Obama or any other president before or after them. And, rightfully so, they have plenty of responsibility in the state of our country. It’s obviously their job to lead the ship in the right direction. However, WE THE PEOPLE have a responsibility to remain united in our efforts in the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of progress. So, I open my comments to conversation. Open honest and discussion, including disagreements, will be tolerated and appreciated. Hate will be deleted. I will not be tolerant of intolerance, that’s not what my words are intended for at this moment, but I’ll talk more about that later.


I understand that I take a chance by using this platform to put my words out there. I understand what I say or do can and will be used against me in the court of public opinion and that can reflect upon my personal, professional, and business life. However, I feel called to speak. I feel that silence isn’t OK anymore. So, let me say what I know and what I think. Let me add a voice to current events that will hopefully open minds and hearts of others. I am but one man, and I do feel powerless, but my silence ensures I remain that way. I have children. I need to know that they will grow up in a world that is safe and has opportunities for them to flourish. I need them to know God’s love and how to show that love to all their earthly and spiritual brothers and sisters.


What follows will be my opinion, but my opinion isn’t just my emotional perspective. It’s also based on knowledge obtained through life experience, experience as a mental health professional for almost 15 years, and college education. An education in which I was blessed to have the opportunity to study the psychology of prejudice along with other multicultural studies. Professional experience that has afforded me the opportunities to work in multicultural settings. I’m not an expert by any means. And Lord knows, I’m not perfect. I, like the rest of the population am complicit in what has taken place here in America in the past decade plus. But let us stop pointing fingers and throwing blame and start working on the heart of the matter, because honestly, when’s the last time that blame solved a problem?


Entitlement

This is a real “epidemic” in our current society. It’s not the Millennials, the youth, the young whipper snappers. It’s all of us. Raise your hand if you’ve ever said the words “I’m entitled to…”. You may be right, and that you were entitled to something in that moment but just because you’re entitled doesn’t mean you get it. However, this entitlement plays out in everything. And it’s coddled and it’s reinforced. By our nature we are selfish and self-seeking people. This isn’t inherently bad. It’s actually evolutionary. It’s why we’re called so strongly to love our neighbor as ourselves because we don’t really love anything or anyone more than ourselves. It’s also why we sin. No matter what our sin may be. Our sin is the result of our selfish, self-seeking, entitlement.


But if I’m like that. And you’re like that, then eventually our worlds will collide. My desires are not going to be your desires. That will pit us against each other. What do we do now? Do I sacrifice my desires for you? Or, like what happens in the animal kingdom, do I challenge your status and defeat you to ensure that I may pursue my desires unabated? We live in a world were more times than not we choose ourselves over the greater good. This is problem number one.


Immediate gratification

Next is our need for immediate gratification. Who here likes to wait? If it’s not a ride at an amusement park, then waiting isn’t appropriate. Even then I wonder how amusement parks stay in business considering how much we’ve waited. This is not a generational thing either, though I will say I think it’s more intense for the younger generations who are used to almost everything being right at their fingertips. However, that’s not entirely fair cause they’re willing to wait 3 days for shipping whereas I’d rather drive 5 minutes to the store and get it same day. As much as we’re different, we’re all very much the same.


This need for immediate gratification propels our motivations and exacerbates our frustrations when there are any barriers. The intensity of this psychological drive is very problematic if we are able to place blame on a person or group of persons for interfering with our ability to receive our immediate gratification, of which we feel entitled to. This is problem number two.


Mental Illness

It is true that we have a problem with mental illness in this country. The problem is that we stigmatize it, for everybody. Worse for males who are already psychologically programmed against vulnerability. We must do more to normalize mental illness. As a mental health professional one of my least favorite aspects of the job is diagnosing. Because in mental health a diagnosis is a label. In the medical world a diagnosis is a diagnosis. A condition in which the person is experiencing. They HAVE cancer, they HAVE a broken leg, etc. In mental health, they must wear their diagnosis like a badge of honor. They ARE Bipolar, they ARE depression.


Furthermore, every mental health diagnosis ends with the word “disorder”. That in and of itself is stigmatizing. We use dialogue that suggest that there is something wrong with or pathological about the person, not the condition. It’s not a broken leg disorder.

Additionally, the cost of health care is astronomical. It costs me on average about $20,000 a year to provide health insurance and medical expenses for my family. This in no way is affordable. Add in the fact that insurance companies are extremely flawed in their operations and practices and they put limits on who is eligible to receive benefits for which they are paying premiums. I over sliding scale fees, but not everyone can afford even the lowest fee. They’d much rather use their health insurance that has a $0 copay, but they cannot because the level of depression they have doesn’t meet the insurance company’s description of medical necessity.


There are many other flaws within the mental health system that affect a person’s willingness or ability to receive care, the least of which is the person who is struggling. Even if we had a Medicare for all system, we still have to overcome the stigma. If we could overcome the stigma, we’d have to make care more accessible. This is problem number three.


Guns

We have a gun problem in America. I am pro-second amendment. I’m also pro-stop killing each other. I am aware there is a lot of misinformation, falsified statistics, lack of knowledge related to guns and mass shootings. None of that matters. What matters is our lives and the lives of our loved ones. What can we do, as a society, as brothers and sisters to protect each other?


We would never allow someone to come into our homes and open fire. We have alarms, and weapons, and whatever else already protecting us. However, what are we supposed to do when the threat comes from within? I don’t have an answer to that. But there needs to be swift, honest, and appropriate action taken.


Let me be clear. Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. I teach behavior management/modification and parenting strategies. We talk extensively about natural and logical consequences. One of conversations is always “What do I if my child is using an item (phone, toy, car, etc.) inappropriately.” Well, my answer is “The natural and logical response is to take it away.” As the conversation goes the next question is, “When do I give it back?” My answer is always, “When they’re responsible enough to use it appropriately.” To which I get “How do I know if they are responsible and ensure that they are using it appropriately.” And I answer, “By setting ground rules and conditions that they must follow in order to have access to the desired item.” I ask myself the same question(s) when it comes to guns. What are we going to do to ensure mature responsible use?


First, let me say I am fully aware and do not agree with the counter argument that criminals will be criminals and they are not going to follow the rules, these laws will only affect law abiding citizens. Yep! You’re right! But I still put an alarm on my house, I still lock the doors and the windows. I once told locks are for honest people. And I get it. But I’d rather have the lock that I know will deter some people even if it won’t deter all.


Second, let me say that I am in no way suggesting that we take away guns, or even certain types of guns. Remember, I’m pro-second amendment. But we must do more to make it harder for the dishonest people to get guns. Yes, that means it’ll be harder for the honest people. It’s a pain going through TSA at the airport. As an aviation nerd it’s quite the nuisance to have all these travel restrictions, but if it reduces the likelihood of a 2nd 9/11 then I’m ok going through security and missing out on watching planes take off and land from inside the airport. That’s all I’m saying. Can we make it harder so that there are less opportunities? This is problem number four.


Race

This is a very delicate subject to which I am not in a position to fully comment about. We have a problem with race relations. In my life I felt as if it was getting better until the past 10 years. Again though, I am sitting on a different side of this discussion. I am a white man. But let me say this. In the past 5 years it has felt like it is socially unacceptable to be a white male. That isn’t even 1% of what other races, people of color, and minorities have experienced throughout the history of this great country. I’m not whining, nor am I really complaining. I’m just simply stating if my experience has been what it is over the past few years, what others have experienced being far worse is unimaginable.


But this is what I understand about race. A person’s race does not make the person. Their race does not define their heart, it does not define their behavior. And we cannot fight racism with racism, or sexism with sexism, etc. Going back to the ideas of our evolution, people are fiercely defensive of their identify (rightfully so) and to attack in any way one’s identity is only further fueling the problems that exist in race today.


I believe in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe in his desire to not take down one person, but to build up all people. If we can’t do this, we continue as we are. This is problem number five.


Generalizations

I wish I could quote it, however I just don’t have the quote. In my undergraduate Psychology of Prejudice class, we learned at the time (2006) that statistically speaking we (every population in society) are more statistically similar than we are different. Furthermore, there are more ingroup (White: White, Black: Black, etc.) differences than there is outgroup (White: Black, etc.) differences. However, psychological speaking, we separate ourselves by race, religion, creed, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, the list goes on. From those separations we generalize. Not every generalization is with malicious intent. I’m not innocent, I do it. “Kids today.” “Millennials.” “Baby boomers.” These are all generalizations when what follows is a description of an entire population’s behavior, thoughts, or feelings.


What’s worse is that this is so ingrained in us that we do it with everything. Colors, cars, furniture, first grade teachers and students. We can and will divide just about anything into ingroup and outgroup categories. This is problem number 6.


Us Versus Them

This leads to a very dysfunctional “Us Versus Them” mentality. In other words, you’re either with me or against me. This strengthens the divide between us. A self-created divide and allows us to generalize about “the other side” that further strengthens the divide.


This plays out very dramatically at our borders. Americans versus Mexicans. We indeed live in two different countries. However, we live on the same continent in North American. We’re all Americans. Canadians, US Americans, and Mexicans alike are ALL American. Further, we’re all of the human race. Yes, naturally and appropriately we will all have differences, but we are all of the same ingroup. All people, all bazillion billion of us are of the same ingroup: Human.

We’re in this together. WE THE PEOPLE all have the same goal and desire for peace, safety, unity, prosperity, and happiness. If we cannot support each other in this, then we will always fight.


This is so basic it plays out in sports. Michigan and Michigan State, Yankees and Red Sox, Lakers and Celtics. How does each fanbase feel about the other? How many of us have ever played college or professional sports yet we say “we” when discussing the teams as if we had any single thing to do with their success or failures. And man are we quick to talk about the other team and the other teams fanbase because I assure you “we’re nothing like them.”


When this plays out in the large scale and we see Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals etc. we start to see an intense divide developing, strengthening, and destroying our country. I’m not saying ignore who you are, never do that, but understand how to use who you are to make others better, not take others down. The media plays a role in perpetuating this hate. This is problem number seven.


Hypocrisy of Intolerance

So much on social media we see the word intolerance. For example, “The left is so intolerant of conservative viewpoints.” Or how about “The right is a bunch of intolerant bigots.” I’m standing here in the middle guys. You’re saying the same things. You’re intolerant of each other while preaching tolerance.


I understand what that means. There are people out there, extremists, from all walks and sides of the social and political spectrum that have some horrible inaccurate and harmful points of view. Do I expect you to be tolerant of them? Absolutely not. If someone came spitting vitriol about me personally, I would absolutely have something to say. But what I say and how I say it will determine whether or not I’ve made the situation worse or better. Sometimes in life, a little planned ignoring goes a very long way.


Fighting to prove a point does not promote tolerance. It strengthens intolerance. Social media is an amazing platform for reaching people. But if all you’re going to do is troll and try to pick fights, you’re a part of the problem. This is problem number eight.


Celebrities

Speaking of social platforms. Celebrities. It is my belief that it is a positive and a benefit that social media allows us to connect with the celebrities of this and other countries. I have always wondered how our country can engage celebrities more, seeing as the power of influence, their financial abilities, etc. puts them in a position to reach more people. That being said, celebrities are not experts. Take what they say and research it. They’re just human beings like you and me. They are equally susceptible to post and repost inaccurate information. To be overcome by and act out of emotions. I think a good 99% have honest heartfelt good intentions, but they’re people to.


And be aware of the misinformation that is being spread using celebrities. Those who are trying to push an agenda know how to take advantage of our idolatry of celebrities. Just because you see a meme of Samuel L. Jackson with a quote that agrees with your opinion, values, and beliefs doesn’t mean Samuel L. Jackson said it.

We blindly trust what we see on TV, Phones, Tablets, Etc. and we have been come less of a free-thinking society. This is problem number nine.


Hate

All the above problems lead us to problem number ten. That which is hate. If you’re different than me, then I must defeat you. In order to defeat you, I must hate you. This is basic evolutionary psychology at play. We are mammals. Mammals are animals. At our most basic instincts we are very primitive and animalistic. We have the benefit of higher-level emotions and cognitions and that is why we must do better. The world needs us to.


When we highlight our differences, we promote hate. When we embrace our worthiness, we promote love. Every human being on this earth, even the ones capable of committing heinous crimes against humanity are worthy of our love. We will not create a better culture with hate. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). If we do not live by this on every level, then we will continue to further the divide and destruction of this country and the people in it. We must love each other to drive out hate.


Conversation Versus Action

I have two siblings. I’m the middle. I’d like to say I was always the peace maker, but I wasn’t. As a kid I was up for a good fight. However, when we did fight, we might have been separated for a second to let cooler heads prevail, but the lesson was always to figure it out together.

Our current state of political, cultural, and social affairs will not be figured out but a two-party system or two sides. We MUST come together. We have no choice but to work together to end violence, bigotry, and hatred. I don’t need you to agree with me. I need you to understand me. And me you. And we must make this happen in our world. We are better together.


I believe in thoughts and prayers. My thoughts have been on the families of those lost in Dayton and El Paso. I don’t know how to stop my thoughts from going there. And I pray. I pray for the Lords peace, comfort, and mercy about the families who are dealing with loss. And I pray that the Lord would change the hearts of the people and remove the hate from our country that we may grow and prosper together.


Our conversations need to be inclusive, not about inclusion. We will not solve problems by looking at the wrongs of the past but will be amazingly prosperous if we focus on the unity of the future. We must forge a path for future generations that is built on love and togetherness.


The prayers are important. The conversation is necessary. Prayer of others has been the most uplifting experiences in times of struggle. But God doesn’t say pray and do nothing. Action is also need. God calls us to action. So, pray, pray without ceasing, but act. It’s time to act. It’s time to act on God’s love.

- Joe

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