The discontents of prejudice


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “prejudice” as a “preconceived judgment or opinion; an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.”

Tens of thousands of men in New York and New Jersey root for the New York Jets football team. Does that mean all men are stupid?

Actually, that’s a bad example. Forget that.

There was a doctor on Fox News named Marc Siegel who recently claimed, without any evidence whatsoever, that Joe Biden is taking Adderall, which helps hyperactive kids improve their concentration and focus. Does that mean people named “Marc” make up lies, as does this particular Marc?

It is a sad fact about humanity that many of us are prejudiced.

Donald Trump “has maintained that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame in their struggles for equality, hindered more by lack of initiative than societal impediments, according to current and former U.S. officials,” as stated in a Sept. 23 story from The Washington Post.

Trump also has said that Mexicans are rapists and criminals who bring drugs to the United States. He has disparaged Haiti and African countries in the most vulgar terms possible.

He has called Black celebrities and journalists unintelligent, including LeBron James and CNN’s Don Lemon. Meanwhile, Trump has threatened legal action against schools he attended to hide his own grades, because in them we may have real evidence about how uneducated he is.

He claimed for several years that Barack Obama was not born in this country, a wildly successful effort to discredit President Obama as somehow alien. I describe his actions as “successful” because his tweets about Obama helped bring Trump hundreds of thousands of followers — and from that, ultimately, the presidency, which is still hard to believe.

This brief story helps demonstrate that prejudice is like a virus. It spreads easily and it’s hard to contain. Science is an antidote for prejudice because it helps us learn that observation and testing can answer many of the questions we have.

Applying the scientific method to prejudice helps us demolish that prejudice. We should always ask the biased person who makes prejudicial claims, “Where is your evidence? What is your evidence?”

Anecdotes about a particular person are not credible evidence that you should apply to an entire class of people.

The second great thing about science is objectivity. Consider the source of your data collection and information. Are you getting your data from reliable measurements? If your measurement and reporting tools are impaired in any way, that is going to distort the results you get.

Science challenges us to use our brains in a systematic way, and challenge our worst instincts in evaluating how we see and experience other people.

Unfortunately, today we have a president who spreads hate as easily as he breathes.

There is no hope in his hate.

These days, with the president we have, it’s far too easy to lose hope. But without hope, we lost our motivation to work for the future.

Humanity is a continuous work in progress, to say the least. But hope gives us the possibility to make a better world.

Hate, on the other hand, gives us nothing but death.

Consider the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994. In just 100 days, Hutu extremists killed 800,000 Tutsis, another tribe in the country. The Serbs killed 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Today, the Chinese have put 1 million Muslims in concentration camps, out of a population of 11 million. The rest are under surveillance. Muslim women there are sterilized.

As an elementary school teacher in the Bronx and Queens for nearly 20 years, I have taught children from all over the world — Kenya, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Yemen, China, Pakistan, and good old New York City.

One of my favorite lessons to teach each year concerned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s helpful to recount his words here:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal.

“I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

We need these words more than ever today.

America was a beacon of freedom and hope for my family from Russia, from which they escaped more than 100 years ago because of discrimination and persecution. Jews in Russia had no rights. They were subject to intermittent mass slaughter in their villages by the Russian authorities whenever they felt like it.

America gave my family freedom and hope. While the country’s professed values have been frequently — and still are — tarnished by prejudice, America can be a beacon that still stands for hope.

If we let it.

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Michael Gold,