Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Coping With Prejudice

Assert and enforce your
 rights and boundaries

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/prejudice.htm

Updated  02-12-2015

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      This article is for people who (a) hold strong racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and/or political biases ("bigots"), and for (b) people who suffer from demeaning personal and/or social prejudice. Pause and reflect - why are you reading this? What do you need?

      This article...

  • defines prejudice and bigotry,

  • proposes common roots of prejudice, and...

  • offers options for responding to significant prejudice.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Website, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 , specially...

  • options for improving self respect and self love;

  • options for resolving personal boundary problems;

  • a sample Personal Bill of Rights; and...

  • the relationship skill of effective assertion.

colorbutton.gif Perspective on "Prejudice" and "Bigotry"

  Prejudice occurs when some person or group believes…

I am or my people are superior to you and your people, so I am / we are entitled to more (dignity, power, freedom, assets, status, opportunity…). This is an absolute truth, and is not subject to discussion or compromise.

      Prejudice ranges from mild to extreme, and narrow to wide. A bigot is extremely prejudiced - i.e. scornful and rigidly intolerant of a person or group because of their race, beliefs, ethnicity, gender, appearance, profession, sexual preference, or lifestyle. Bigots  may be vocal and outspoken or covert about their intolerance, and may deny, justify, or brag about their beliefs and discriminatory attitudes and actions. . 

      Prejudice and bigotry start when caregivers, relatives, and local society - including churches - model and teach young kids rigid moral judgments about types or groups of people. For example...

“All Jews are crafty moneygrubbers.”

“Homosexuals are sick and twisted!”

“Gypsies are sly and rootless.”

“Mexicans are superstitious and lazy.”

“Californians are way too liberal."

"Orientals never say what they think."

“Catholics are superior and intolerant.”

“British people are dull and repressed"

“Stepfamilies and stepkids are inferior.”

"Southerners are religious bigots."

"Rednecks are ignorant bullies."

"Homeless people are irresponsible."

"Abortion is criminal and immoral."

"Faggots are subhumans"

“Niggers are subhuman.”

“Germans are rigid and arrogant.”

“Native Americans are lazy drunks.”

"New Englanders are too conservative and taciturn.”

“Never trust an Irishman or a lawyer.”

“Addicts are weak, sick, and defective.”

"Arabs are primitive, violent zealots"

“Females are too emotional, illogical, and maternal to succeed in business.”

"College graduates are smarter."

"Mormons are polygamous sinners."

"Jews are God's chosen people."

"People should marry their own kind."

"Child abusers should be killed."

      Were you taught any beliefs like these?

      By definition, prejudice can't be reduced by calm discussion and reasoning. Most biased beliefs are intrinsically irrational and emotional, not logical. This reduces the chance that you can negotiate and really problem-solve (compromise) effectively together.

      All people and groups evolve minor to major values conflicts - differences in preferences and attitudes. Values conflicts become prejudice if one person says the other person is bad and/or inferior because of their values. Religious prejudice is specially provocative because the accuser avoids personal responsibility by allying with God in claiming righteous superiority 

 Is it discrimination, prejudice, or both?

      How would you define the word discrimination? It's a common source of conflict in all kinds of organizations, including families. One meaning of the word is to distinguish one thing from another. Another meaning is to give preferential treatment to someone in a group, whether merited or not. This can occur because of a trade in favors ("you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours"), a liking or attraction, or - prejudice.

      Stories of perceived or actual discrimination against African and Native Americans, females, obese people, "foreigners," and others dot media headlines and courtroom dockets. Fewer stories focus on favorite sons or daughters, unless major estate bequests are involved. Our European ancestors were used to the idea of social "classes" (e.g. royalty, nobility, commoners, and serfs), where people claimed more or less respect and privilege because of their names, titles (if any), education, and lineage ("pedigree"). India is slowly relaxing it's old divisive "caste system,"

      All prejudice is discriminatory - but not all discrimination is prejudice. Do you agree. Both dynamics imply disrespect, which can evoke major stress..

Typical Effects and Responses

      If you've ever felt "discriminated against" recall how you felt. Disrespected?  Misunderstood? Resentful? Frustrated? Hurt? Angry? Resigned? Combative? Defensive? Outraged? All of these? The intensity of such reactions depend on...

  • whether your true Self is guiding you or not;

  • whether the accuser demeans you as a person, and/or a group you belong to; and...

  • how the prejudice is expressed - privately or publically, directly or implied,  and "unemotionally" or with scorn and sarcasm.  

      People who are judged as inferior can be indifferent; submissive, passive, and resigned ("you can't fight city hall!"); annoyed; or reactive. Either way, significant prejudice usually promotes divisive Persecutor - Victim - Rescuer (PVR) relationship triangles between people and groups. Most people are unaware of these triangles and don't know how to avoid or dissolve them.

      A paradox occurs when someone is prejudiced about a bigoted person or group - e.g. "All Muslims believe they should kill non-believers, and are despicable, immoral, and dangerous." This dynamic tends to cause escalating enmity, distrust, and disrespect and even violence, among the people involved. The Arab - Israeli and two-Korea conflicts are current examples.

  What Causes Prejudice?

      Significant prejudice stresses people, relationships, families, and nations. It  promotes aggression, violence, injury, and death (e.g. the Christian Crusades, and Nazi "racial cleansing") - so why does it exist in every age and culture?

      One taproot is the primal human need for self and social respect. All infants are weak, clumsy, and "stupid" compared to their adults, so they're vulnerable to believing they are inferior people (shame). Unless parents think well of themselves and steadily teach their kids that they are worthy, respectable, and lovable, "low self esteem" can bloom and fuel the need to disparage other people. 

      Another common root of prejudice is cultural tradition - tribal (family) elders teaching younger members of their innate superiority and proud heritage as conquers of "weaker" (inferior) people and tribes

      Thirdly, if prejudice is used strategically (gossip and "propaganda"), it can unify and motivate others to compete and defeat or disable some personal or group adversary. In America, the anti-Negro, anti-Semitic rantings of the Ku Klux Klan is one example. The rapid advent of wireless global communication networks ("the Information age") is steeply increasing the power of the media to influence public opinion and support about individuals and "special interest" groups.

      If you feel discriminated against in some way, you don't have to adopt a victim role. You have many...

colorbutton.gif Response Options

      These options apply to most personal (vs. group) situations, regardless of who is prejudiced about whom, why, and how they express their opinion:

      1) Assess yourself for inherited psychological wounds. Your chances for responding to prejudice effectively are much higher if you're guided by your true Self. False selves are apt to react aggressively and/or provocatively, amplifying relationship conflict and stress. Use Lesson 1 ("parts work") to reduce any significant wounds over time.

      2) Evolve and live by a Bill of Personal Rights. It's essential for effective assertion of your values, needs, and boundaries. As you do this, sharpen your daily awareness of your personal integrity.

      3) Decide what you feel is an effective response to significant prejudice against you or someone you value. I propose that "an effective response" means...

  • you heed these ageless wisdoms; and...

  • you honor your integrity - i.e. you respond in a way that earns your self respect; and...

  • you view the prejudiced person as "wounded and ignorant,": rather than "bad;" "stupid," "egotistical," "arrogant," "evil," and/or "inferior"; and...

  • your response does not knowingly provoke aggression and reciprocal blaming and slandering; and...

  • you avoid trying (useless) logical explanations and defenses to "correct" the prejudiced person or to prove they're "wrong"; and...

  • you don't seek to embarrass, punish, or demean the prejudiced person or group; and you respect their human rights as equally-worthy people despite their disrespectful attitude and actions.

      Pause and reflect - do you agree with these criteria? If not, how do you define "an effective response to prejudice"?  If your reaction is to be combative, aggressive, demeaning, and scornful, suspect that a false self controls you.

      Option 4) Upgrade your communication skills by studying and applying online Lesson 2. This will help you (a) retrain and harmonize your personality subselves and (b) respond effectively to prejudicial people. Put special emphasis on learning how to think clearly, listen empathically, assert respectfully, and problem-solve  where possible.

      More options for responding effectively to prejudice and bigotry:

      5) Identify, validate, and assert your personal boundaries. They specify what behaviors you will tolerate without taking some specific action. Behaviorally, boundaries are defined by "no," "yes," and "If you chose to do ‘x,’ then I (or we) will do ‘y’.” (an assertive 'I'-message).

      This brief YouTube video offers suggestions on giving someone effective feedback:

      6) Learn what values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles are, and how to avoid and manage them. Your success will increase if you free your true Self to guide you, are clear on your personal priorities, and progress on options 1-5 above.

      7) Avoid taking responsibility for other able adults' emotions, beliefs, or needs. True maturity includes accepting that every able adult is responsible for filling her or his own needs.

      8) Seek to adopt an attitude of compassionate detachment from those who disparage you or your group. See them as psychologically-wounded and unaware,  not "bad." This doesn't mean you must passively accept prejudicial behavior.

      9) Learn how racial, religious, gender, and/or ethnic tensions are affecting each child you care about; and tell them how such tensions affect you, within limits. Then help the child understand with compassion and empathy why some shame-based, unaware people need to judge others as inferior.

       Help your young ones learn to identify, assert, and defend their personal rights and boundaries, and show them what that looks and sounds like! Generations of unborn children are mutely depending on you to do this for them. There lives will be easier if you do.

      How might these options sound?

Options in Action

      Let's say you never graduated from college for whatever reason, and someone says something like "Well, people without college degrees are clearly less intelligent." Without the attitudes and skills above, you might...

  • feel demeaned, resentful. inferior (?); and defensive; and you might...

  • repress these feelings and say nothing, change the subject, or...

  • your protective false self might say something defensive like...

"Where did you get that ignorant idea?" or...

"Are you saying that I'm less intelligent?", or...

"If you believe that, you're not very intelligent," or...

"You obviously don't know what you're talking about."

      Reactive responses like these will usually provoke an argument, criticism, or hostile silence, and will degrade your relationship. With your true Self guiding you and the attitudes and skills above, you might...

  • feel momentarily resentful and/or irritated,

  • remind your subselves "This is his (her) opinion, not a fact. Our worth doesn't depend on graduating from college."

  • recall that prejudice is usually a sign of being psychologically-wounded and ruled by a false self, and the person is probably unaware of this and being shame-based and/or fear-based;

  • clarify whether you're reacting to the speaker's biased opinion, or to the way s/he is expressing their opinion - or both. .

  • remind yourself that silence does NOT mean you agree with the speaker, and decide if you need to say something. If you do, avoid trying to "correct," challenge, or disparage the other person. Options:

"I see it differently."

"I don't agree with you."

"Why do you believe that?"

"I have a hard time hearing you when you generalize like that."

"Did you know I never had the chance to graduate from college?"

            If the speaker knows about personality subselves, you could ask...

"Which of your subselves just spoke?" and/or "How does your true Self feel about that opinion?"

      Notice the theme of these sample true-Self responses: they're brief, calm, self-aware, respectful, and non-confrontational, not lengthy, impulsive, combative, defensive, sarcastic, apologetic, or judgmental. How do these examples compare with how you might normally respond to implied or blatant prejudice about you or your group?

      Stay aware of the difference between responding to prejudice ("you or your group are inferior") vs. to slander (public criticism and distortions about your behavior). and values conflicts ["I disagree with (or dislike) your values or preferences."]

      If you notice that the way the speaker behaves is bothering you (e.g. sarcastically, disrespectfully, lecturing, sermonizing, monologing, etc ), use your Lesson-2 skills and these sample responses to guide what to do or say

A Tougher Situation

       The example above is pretty mild. What would an "effective response" sound like if the prejudice was specially loud, antagonistic, belligerent, arrogant, and insulting? For example, what if someone said...

 "Well. you Jews have the nerve to arrogantly claim you're God's chosen people You conniving, money-grubbing Christ-killers should be exterminated!"

      Most unaware, wounded people would instinctively react with icy silence or some biting insult, anger, and/or biased counterattack that would escalate into trading heated insults - a lose-lose power struggle. An effective response would start by...

  • checking to see that your true Self guides you; and...

  • reminding yourself...

    • "my integrity is my highest priority now;"

    • "(The other person) is psychologicall-wounded and misinformed, and has the same human rights that I do;"

    • "Arguing, blaming, lecturing, and protesting are pointless - s/he (her/his false self) can't hear me." and...

    • "I do NOT have to accept being demeaned like this. I have a right to assert myself (vs. "fight back") now."


  • decide whether to use empathic listening or not. That might sound like...

    "So you feel Jews are inferior people who should be eliminated." This is a restatement (acknowledgement) not a question, and does NOT mean you agree!

  • Decide if you need to assert an opinion and/or a boundary. If you do, recall how to compose and deliver an effective 'I'-message.'' That might sound like...

    "(Name), when you make judgmental comments like that, I feel disrespected and angry / disgusted / antagonistic / resentful / outraged / ..." 

          Notice the brevity of this example, and the absence of blame, name-calling, labeling, defensiveness, sarcasm, and scorn. Expect bluster, resistance, or escalation without judgment - e.g. "Bah. You sniveling Jews are cowards and can't stand up to the truth, can you?"

          With your Self in charge, use calm empathic listening again, and repeat your I-message with steady eye contact. You're not trying to criticize, guilt-trip, or embarrass the speaker, you're honoring your integrity! 

          If you calmly repeat this sequence of empathic listening and brief re-assertion. the bigot will eventually have nothing to more say, and you can feel you stood your ground. Doing this will increase your personality subselves' trust in your true Self to protect them.    

      If a child or adult has recently disparaged you or your group, recall (a) if your Self was guiding you, (b) how you reacted, and then (c) how you felt. Can you imagine replaying the situation using your version of the response-options above? If not, what would prevent you? If so, imagine how the situation would have turned out.

      These options will do nothing for you until you try them. Like any significant behavioral change, benefitting from these options will take patience and practice.

      Again - make it a point to model and teach these prejudice-response options to any young people in your life. If you don't - who will?

How will you remember these options the next time you feel disparaged?

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This article is part of Lesson 4 - how to optimize your relationships. It...

  • defines prejudice and bigotry, and review common responses to them,

  • proposes three common roots of prejudice,

  • offers options for responding effectively to significant prejudice; and...

  • illustrates an effective response. 

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?  

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