Disliking Others without Valid Reasons:
Where Do Prejudices Come From?
Harold Fishbein, who made a life-long study of prejudice, thought that racial
and ethnic prejudices were unfortunately due to evolutionary changes in
human genes. If so, how did these fear-of-stranger tendencies get in our
genes? The theory is that over millions of years, humans and pre-humans
lived in tribes which were threatened with dangers and had to be ever alert
for attacks. Many tribes fought for resources and competed for survival with
other tribes. Under these conditions, the genes of our more watchful,
cautious, strong, aggressive, agile and somewhat fearful-of-outsiders
ancestors got passed on to us. These innate cautious-with-stranger
tendencies helped us survive two million years ago but today those once-
helpful genes may now make it harder to make peace with neighboring
countries, to trust the different people that live across town, and harder to
share equally with people who follow different social, political or religious
beliefs. Even though our genes may have saved our lives 2 million years ago,
these suspicious, angry tendencies are a problem when relating to lots of
different kinds of people today. However, during the same history, humans
also developed a wonderful brain which can, if helped, identify our own
irrational ideas and feelingsand stop our unfair, wrong, and unneeded
Prejudice is a lazy mans substitute for thinking.
Ask an angry person where his/her anger comes from and you are likely to be
told: from my wife/husband, my boss, my family, my children, my work, i.e.
from my situation. You will almost never be told: my anger comes from my
brain, from my way of thinking about the situation, or from false ideas I have
accepted being right.
Prejudice is a premature judgment, i.e. made before you have all the facts.
It could refer to a positive bias but more commonly the word refers to a
negative feeling, opinion or attitude toward a person or group of people which
is not based on objective facts. These prejudgments are usually based on
stereotypes which are oversimplified, sometimes overly positive or negative,
and over generalized views of groups or types of people. Or, a prejudgment
of one person may be based on an emotional experience we have had with
another similar person, sort of our own personal stereotype. Stereotypes also