Prejudiced & Biased OR Biased & Prejudiced?
4th February 1999. A young 23-year-old Guinean immigrant was shot 41 times in the wee hours in Bronx, New York, by four plain-clothed policemen of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Amadou Diallo was standing near his apartment building, when four NYPD police personnel, looking for an alleged serial rapist, saw Diallo. Suspecting him to be a miscreant, they asked him to raise his hands keeping his palms in front. It was late, Diallo feared police action and wished to avoid unnecessary confrontation reacted instantly, to the call of policemen by putting hands in his pocket with intent to pull out his identity card to clear the misunderstanding if any. As hands went down the pocket, within minutes, four policemen started shooting. They shot 41 rounds from their semi-automatic pistols, hitting Diallo with 19 bullets! They kept shooting even when Diallo was down — lying in a pool of blood!
Diallo was a black immigrant seeking political asylum in the United States due to civil unrest in his home country. The tragic death of young Diallo created a furore in New York political spheres for a while, but serious little has changed since then.
After 20 years, little has altered in terms of behaviour, in terms of perception, in terms of safety. Even today every second person, stopped by NYPD is black, despite blacks forming less than one-fourth of the total population of New York City.
The question arises, why did NYPD officers, who were white males, act, react, and operated in this regretful manner?
Would the police officers involved, have reacted in a similar manner had the suspect been a white instead of a black male?
In the 25th May 2020 death case of George Floyd, would the white cop, who is involved in allegedly killing by putting his knee on the neck of Floyd, for 8 minutes 46 seconds, do the same had George Floyd been white?
What explains this? Why do these things happen?
The mind is a complex organ, it controls our behaviour, manages our thoughts, it initiates actions and reactions.
But based on one’s experiences, interactions or impressions, the mind also creates biases, perceptions, and thus prejudices.
Not only it creates prejudices but is able to justify successfully its existence, its utility, and its importance to oneself in one’s life.
What does Prejudice mean?
People often interpret Prejudice as discrimination or stereotyping or bigotry.
Prejudice in some sense leads to all of the above — Discrimination, Stereotyping, bigotry, but is not the same.
Prejudice means “a strong unreasonable feeling of not liking or trusting somebody or something, especially when it is based on one’s race, religion, caste or sex.
Albert Einstein, the famous physicist once remarked, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
Prejudice is an idea or opinion that disregards basic facts. It’s similar to ignorance, or a lack of knowledge, experience or education, or having the right perspective, or sometimes even choosing to ignore one.
Every time humanity witnesses a setback by an unfortunate event, the vulnerability increases multifold and rationality completely steps aside.
The above cases which took place in the USA of racial discrimination were witnessed in regular day-to-day surroundings without any external event being undertaken. More often, prejudices remain deep-rooted but they take an ugly and draconian form and shape when emotions run high, as it happened in the case of the 1984 Sikh riots in India (When several innocent Sikh families were slaughtered, due to one single act of a person), or immediately after 9/11 when every individual wearing a turban and long beard was suspected to be a terrorist and the mob was willing to remove anger on them.
Every single mob violence or riot reflects the immersed ingrained implanted idea which gets aggravated by words, actions or events.
Where does this prejudice originate from?
In Sociology or social psychology, there is a concept called the Ingroup and Outgroup phenomenon. This phenomenon has existed since humans have come into existence but the concept has gained popularity on account of the work Social Identity Theory undertaken by Polish-born British social psychologist Henri Tajfel.
The phenomenon in simple terms states that an Ingroup is a group to which a person identifies as being a member. An Outgroup is a social group with which an individual does not identify. These groups are subconsciously formed basis sports liking, preference to political parties, gender, religion, state, community, caste, practically anything!
This human setting originated with humans to protect them so that they collaborate themselves on common issues and can come together on a common ground on matters related to survival. This subconscious cohesion or behaviour ensure coexistence and cohabitation in a scenario where the threat of bigger wild animals existed everywhere, which were more mighty and powerful than humans.
However, this deep-seated thought or trait remains prevalent even today and controls most of our decisions whether impulsive or thought through, where preference and trust are big drivers of decisions. Brain hunts constantly for common aspects building linkages. This commonality or linkage can become from common belief, agreement on a similar idea, same background, same city or the same country.
It’s quite irrational but true that as soon as someone speaks our language in a foreign or unknown land, despite him having no past connection with us or with our country, we start trusting that person more as against others, building our bias.
Ingroup and Outgroup phenomenon is binary, and if one is not in Ingroup, it means he or she is in Outgroup. If the person is not with us, then it means he or she is against us. Thus the brain keeps dividing people into friends or foes constantly and once the cognitive programming is determined, it’s difficult to shift compartments. Lot many times, one’s upbringing and past experiences, box people before one has even met them basis past information available on that person.
This is the single biggest reason why under the influence of anger, rage or outrage, one is willing to harm or even kill someone (mob violence, riots) completely unknown whom one has never even met in the past without having second thoughts or regrets.
How do humans justify Prejudice to themselves?
Humans, or the human brain, suffer from multiple biases which are also called cognitive biases. One such bias is known as the Just-world hypothesis (or Just-world fallacy).
This Hypothesis states that a person deserves what he gets and a person gets what he deserves.
In this manner, one is able to justify all heinous acts committed against anyone believing that the act or the incident happened to the other person, executed, done or affected by one is the outcome of wrongdoing of the other and not of oneself.
Every social pattern has an economic outcome attached to it. So is the case with Prejudice.
Some common examples which are not discussed openly but their undercurrent remains afloat while organisational decisions are made.
1. Pregnant women are not hired by organisations or pregnant women should not change their jobs during pregnancy as they will be on leave and thus there will be work loss.
If one looks from another side, pregnant women who are given the flexibility to work and work efficiently from home, as COVID has done in recent times (since 2020), the efficiency and effectiveness on work actually increase for these ladies. As nursing mothers, the ladies undergo changes and hence their outlook towards a team and towards an organisation changes with a motherly perspective. During the hunter-gatherer era, mothers needed to be more alert when children were young as infants need to be protected from wild animals, thus those instincts help them to figure out efficient, quick solutions and spotting problems promptly.
2. Young are more energetic and can deliver better results and undertake activities efficiently as compared to older counterparts.
Most studies state that older experienced people are better entrepreneurs and better problem-solvers as they have the right mix of patience with foresight which may be missing in a teenager or a young lad in early twenties.
3. Colleagues or subordinates who can’t communicate with buoyant language have limited capabilities and can only rise to a certain level in the organisation.
They are prejudiced to be workload donkeys than smart workers. Another related aspect is the perception that salespeople make good conversations and are talkative. Research has proven that the best salespeople are the ones who are great listeners and the ones who have the quality of perseverance; persistence with patience, all of which makes a great combination for any job, leave apart sales.
There are many such stories, tales and anecdotes which exist in one’s life. The challenge is that one needs to be open and cognizant of such possibilities and such perspectives. That’s the only way conflicts and prejudices, or prejudices and conflicts will come to an end, ensuring higher productivity for oneself with greater overall satisfaction and happiness for the society and community.
Stay safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Open-minded.