When you recognize your own prejudices...

Yesterday I was in line at the library and I saw a clearly mentally disabled woman get a library card. This woman spoke with a slur, walked and gestured strangely, and seemed to have trouble remembering things she was told.

Immediately I thought “how creepy - I hope she goes away soon”. Immediately after that I thought “oh my god, why did I just think that? What a terrible thing to think,” but the truth is, that first thought was still there, and now I have recognized that on a subconscious, visceral level, I have a great deal of prejudice I need to work through.

What is the best course of action when you recognize your own prejudices? Now that I know I have an irrational fear, what should I do to deal with it and behave sanely toward my fellow human beings?

I think you first have to realize that humans are drawn to people like themselves and not beat yourself up over the fact that you subconsciously felt somewhat uncomfortable around a different sort of person.

Then you have to ask yourself if this is some deep-seated and abiding prejudice which would influence the way you treat a person or some flitting knee-jerk reaction that you could overcome with a little effort. You seem to have caught yourself pretty quickly, so I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Third, if you feel guilty about the mental slight and need to ‘make things right’, you could research whatever type of person caused the reaction, learn about the things that you have in common and the things you don’t and come to sympathize with them as human beings. Sometimes we’re blinded to the humanity of others by some superficial difference, and the goal is to overcome that through exposure.

You mention a handicap-perhaps you could participate in some sort of charitable event that benefits those afflicted, thus meeting and interacting with them. I’d venture a guess that you’d come away from such a event truly humbled.

I think the best thing to do is become educated. I feel like I am always learning, and can always do and be better. Compared to most of my family and some of the horrible prejudices they have, I am doing pretty well. But I am still learning all the time, and am not perfect. My opinion, is that we all fall somewhere on a continuum of prejudices.

For instance I have said a few things in the past that I thought were harmless, that a friend of mine who is Korean has called me on. And he was right. Once I knew what I was doing, I acknowledged my error and made the change.

I’m terrified of amputees and people with deformities to their hands. It makes me feel like shit, but I try not to beat myself up too much for the reaction, just squash it.

The irony is that I married a man with a very slight hand deformity.