Social Psychology describes the roots of prejudice as a learned practice which develops for the purposes of efficiency. It is a survival skill, for better or for worse, that involves breadth-first evaluations which evoke experiential memory, and is typically conditioned by cultural context. In a positive light, it can prevent us from danger, as it can allow for quick judgement and response in a life or death situation. In a negative light, it is a barrier to understanding, fair treatment, and even justice.
Positive prejudice – such as the presumption that taller children are more mature, that certain races are more intelligent, or that people with certain hair colours are more sociable, for example – creates oppressive pressure on members of these groups to either fully affirm or to fully defy these prejudices. Negative prejudice, however, tends to be the more common application of the term. Each type assigns an entire group’s supposed characteristics to an individual or group, based on the perception of the person. Since we are all participants in some identity, no one is totally free of prejudice.
Overweight people – who, in fact, comprise the majority in the Western world – are overwhelmingly perceived as lazy, less intelligent, unmotivated, and lacking in self-control and self-esteem. Finding and keeping a job has proven a challenge for Darlene, a qualified and experienced banker, while Saundra, a certified pharmacy technician, consistently works beneath her skill set for minimum wage and cannot get full-time hours. What they have in common is “endomorph” stature and the unfortunate experience of being bullied by colleagues on the job, following similar treatment from peers during their school years. At another extreme, Alfred, a 6’1, 450-pound dramatic character actor, cannot get cast because, as agents and casting directors have insisted, “You people are supposed to be jolly.”
In certain less developed countries, morbid obesity is a status symbol. Being overweight is synonymous with wealth and authority. In traditional Indian scripture, a “deep navel” is a feature of great beauty. However, waist-to-hip ratio among females consistently defines attractiveness to males as fertility remains a primal priority. “Survival of the species” is not the objective. If it were, prejudice would not exist. Rather, the objective is “Survival of the gene pool”. Otherwise, cockfighting would not be to the death, and all male elephants and giraffes would have a role in their respective societies. Unfortunately, we are products of our gene pools and, if unfiltered by literacy, it is the tendency of animals to favour what we perceive to be our own, and to aspire toward the elimination of competition.
Social Darwinism on an Absolute Scale
Legislation itself is fallacious inasmuch as it seeks to protect the interests of a cultural elite. All three branches of government are enlisted to enforce these self-preserving laws; the executive (including police) act on prejudice first. The judicial (court system) is structured to protect the interests of the same elite as that behind the legislative branch, which creates laws historically designed to represent society’s upper echelons and those who submit to their ideals.
Cannabis is an interesting example of this phenomenon. Canada’s drug laws, for example, originate in the opium ban designed to subdue Chinese workers during the building of the Grand Trunk railway; Chinese builders worked tirelessly for up to 20 hours on the grueling project, went home, smoked their opium, and went to work again only a few hours later. Justice Emily Murphy, in her effort to gain equality and respect from her male parliamentary colleagues, insisted that marijuana must be illegal because the nation’s upright white daughters would be corrupted by the downright black men who provided the substance. Presently on the eve of its legalization in Canada, Halifax Councillor Shawn Cleary refuses to use the term “marijuana” because it is racist against “marginalized communities, namely Mexicans.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/
These matters are very near to me, because I was a friend of Mauril’s during the cannabis debates, with my pot permit under existing medical “Marihuana” laws. The condition being treated is an extensive disability and chronic illness pursuant to misdiagnosis and abusive medical mismanagement. As a teenager – barely conscious – I was brought to a hospital near a Mohawk reserve with an extreme headache, slurred speech, and increasing paralysis. Nurses treated me like garbage, telling me I was a drunk Indian on cocaine. Actually, I am half Filipino and half Welsh (petite, with black hair and light olive skin). I was having a brain aneurysm – at a very young age – which was due to a malformation in the blood vessels. Damage could have been minimized if I had been treated fairly, objectively and properly. Prejudice is not about what people are, it is about what others think they are. It destroys lives, even ends them. In my father’s words, “It tells me more about the person talking than the person being talked about.”
By Carol Ann