Many people relate to others based on preconceived notions and positions. At a leadership training session, I held up two pictures: one of a very decent-looking bespectacled white man with his equally decent-looking wife, and the other of a man in his mid-20s of Middle Eastern extraction. I asked the audience which of the two men they would consider dangerous.
Without batting an eyelid and without much deep thought, everyone picked the young Middle Eastern. As it turned out, he was a humanitarian volunteer with an NGO and a very kind-hearted fellow. The Caucasian man, whom everyone passed a vote of confidence on, was a serial killer of 49 girls and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
So, if my students had had to choose a housemate, the majority would have picked the murderer over the humanitarian purely out of prejudice and mindsets that have been formed by not challenging assumptions.
The things we see and hear have built the way we view the world, and unfortunately, do not leave room for exceptions. Therefore, because a part of the world has been fed information that “bad guys” are Middle Eastern, almost always Muslim, and potential terrorists, there is no room to consider that they might, in fact, be the exact opposite.
Many a time, facts are overridden by emotion. No one realises that there are more terror attacks carried out in the US by Americans upon themselves than by foreigners, and that many of the terrorists are not identified as Muslim — and the perpetrators are in fact Caucasian. However, through consistent dis- and misinformation from the media and society, mindsets form, leading to prejudicial thinking.
So, what is the true cost of prejudice in our world today? How many opportunities have we missed out on due to pre-existing mindsets and bias? Prejudice shows up everywhere, from politics and establishments to appointments and even prayer spaces.
In parts of Europe and the US, some churches are referred to as “Nigerian”. Others get more particular and are branded “Yoruba” or “Igbo” churches, and individuals may be denied positions to serve within these congregations simply because they do not belong to the right tribe or religion.
A friend, who grew up in the heavily segregated and racially charged southern part of the US. To this day, he carries the weight of his upbringing, where he was conditioned to avoid crossing a road that had an oncoming white man. Failure to comply would have meant dire consequences.
Unfortunately, this ingrained prejudice still affects him, leading to automatic feelings of inferiority in encounters with white persons. The emotional toll of such prejudice is immeasurable. Consider the vast number of individuals who harbour similar feelings of inferiority due to prejudice. In an attempt to assert themselves, some resort to violence, seeking to establish dominance over others. This is the true cost of prejudice, and it is imperative that we confront and address it.
Right now, there is a clear and present risk that needs to be addressed, and this is where our society esteems what is foreign above what is local. This is risky.
There are different kinds of prejudice, but when we are prejudiced against ourselves, we attack our future. detrimental to growth and development, until we celebrate our own.
Wale Akinyemi is the founder of The Street University; Email: [email protected]