Psychologists suggest we learn prejudiced attitudes via several other
processes. Examples: We may learn to discriminate because prejudice pays!
Slave owners certainly profited greatly from slaves. In the past, parents
profited from having lots of obedient children. Factories profit from poorly
paid workers. Bosses profit from bright, able secretaries who work for 40%
less than males. We can impress certain people and curry favor with them if
we are prejudiced, e.g. a prejudiced parent, friend, or boss likes us to hold
the same views.
Prejudice also comes as part of our familial inheritance! As children we
may identify with bigoted parents and adopt prejudiced attitudes without
thinking. Most families utilize certain stereotypes, such as "only men go to
bars," "women can't fix mechanical things," "old people are boring," etc.
Gender roles may also have been assumed (and taught by example) in your
family--the women and girls always did the cooking and the housecleaning
and the men always fixed the cars, mowed the lawn, and joked about sex.
These biased views are deeply embedded in our mind.
Larry King (1971) in Confessions of a White Racist exemplifies this subtle
learning of prejudiced stereotypes from parents, siblings, and friends:
"Quite without knowing how I came by the gift, and in a
complete absence of even the slightest contact with black
people, I assimilated certain absolutes: the Negro would steal
anything lying around loose and a high percentage of all that
was bolted down; you couldn't hurt him if you hit him on the
head with a tire tool; he revered watermelon above all other
fruits of the vine; he had a mule's determination not to work
unless driven or led to it; he would screw a snake if somebody
would hold its head.
Even our speech patterns were instructional....One's more
menial labors could leave one 'dirty as a nigger' or possibly
'sweating like a nigger at election.'...I don't remember that we
employed our demeaning expressions in any remarkable spirit
of vitriol: we were simply reciting certain of our cultural
catechisms, and they came as naturally as breathing."
Such beliefs are a terrible injustice and an insult to human intelligence.
Belittling beliefs are just as destructive as being hit with a tire tool or refused
a job; yet, the beliefs were learned and used without realizing the ignorance
and unfairness involved. This unthinking conformity to beliefs of our social
group happens frequently. As we saw with Mr. X, these stereotypes are
resistant to change. By their unpleasant and hostile nature, stereotypes
discourage intimate contact with the "target" persons so that one doesn't
discover what individuals of that type are really like. However, if one does
have contact, the prejudice may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For
instance, if you falsely believe that supervisors or teachers are uninterested in
you, then you may approach them in such a shy, uncomfortable way that
they avoid interactions that make you uneasy; consequently, they seem
uninterested--just like you expected.