Where does prejudice begin?
As I read the news, social media posts and letters from various companies, I am challenged to examine my prejudice, and to change my behaviour towards black people and people of colour. Rightly I am told that ‘it’s not enough not to be racist, I must be anti-racist’. In other words, any passive position I might adopt continues to contribute to the prejudice and discrimination of my fellow human beings.
Challenging people to educate themselves and to imagine what it is like to be in another human being’s shoes is key.
I believe that it is also imperative to scrutinise and dismantle the ‘hard-wiring’- the political and economic structures, the symbols that support racism and racist behaviour. If not, I fear that the clarion call for change will not be realised.
What I know from many years working in the field of transformation is that this hard-wiring, and the behaviours that arise from it, are generated by the way we think, and the way we think is generated by the mind. It is here that prejudice and fear are incubated.
Most of us have not been taught to pay attention to the unconscious mind, and so our thinking goes unexamined. We may notice some of our thoughts, but more often than not we are profoundly unaware of much of our thinking. So I might catch some of my prejudice, but still not notice that I am afraid to speak up and stand up to someone who is openly racist, for fear of the perceived consequences.
And the trickery of the mind doesn’t stop there: that same force of unchecked judgement will move imperceptibly and forcefully from one person to another, from one group to another. If unchallenged, in no time my mind will have me feeling ‘good’ about my own judgements: I am now ‘better than’, superior to those I now judge.
Whilst the values that I am basing my prejudice on maybe be noble, the judgmental thinking is not. Placing myself unconsciously or consciously ‘superior’ to someone else is always problematic and will inevitably lead to the very separation I am standing against.
My mind, our minds, need to be continually examined and challenged. Not easy, but necessary. If we don’t, our prejudice will inevitably go underground, unnoticed and undeterred, stealthily informing our behaviour and flourishing like unchecked weeds. As such, it will show up in our avoidance, and our reticence. It will steal our courage, close our hearts, and have us abdicate our responsibility.
Indeed our responsibility is to be willing to change from the inside out: to challenge our unconscious thoughts. From here we can update our faulty and outmoded operating systems and behave as we would choose, from a place of clarity and with a conscious purpose.
By Dani Palmarini