This is a subject that I’m always nervous to talk about, at least with people I don’t know very well (like nearly every person who’s reading my blog). It’s a subject that everyone has an opinion on with a lifetime of experiences to back up those opinions. It’s a subject that is… volatile, to say the least.
Yes, I know: I’m opening myself up for a whole lot of internet-hurt (hate) here, but this is a vital topic. Just because it’s a difficult issue to bring up doesn’t make it any less important to discuss; in fact I would say that it’s more important to talk about difficult topics. They’re difficult for a reason.
So… let’s talk about it.
According to my Miriam-Webster dictionary prejudice is:
a (1): a preconceived judgement or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
b: an instance of such judgement or opinion
c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics
When people hear others talking about prejudice (unless they’re lawyers, in which case prejudice has another meaning), they often think of the last definition. But being prejudiced isn’t reserved for those of us who are blatant racists or misogynists or hate all people over 5’10” with a burning passion. That is prejudice, but it’s not all prejudice.
Prejudice is when we have opinions on someone or a group of someones without necessarily having all of the information needed to make that opinion an informed one. Sometimes that’s the type of prejudice that we’re discussing. Often, when we’re talking about prejudice in writing or reading, this is what we’re talking about. Do you know why?
We are all prejudiced.
Now take that in. Breathe slowly, and think about it. We all — yes, all of us — have prejudices. We all have thoughts and opinions about people who have a basis in very little knowledge or any knowledge at all. We subconsciously judge all women based off of the women we know or see, and all men, for that matter. We do the same for race, for sexual orientation, for religion, for nationality, for everything. We all have a baseline.
That said, many of us (especially those concerned with prejudice) are aware that every person is different. We might have a baseline, but we try not to define people by those baselines.
Our prejudices are molded by who we are, who we see, who we meet, and who we know. I’m a young, private-schooled, Catholic, straight, American female of mixed-race from urban Honolulu, Hawaii. That’s molded who I am and how I see the world. But I’m aware of it, and while it informs my point of view, it doesn’t define it.
But that’s in life, right? How does it define your writing? Aren’t you supposed to write what you know?
Well, yes and no. Completely unhelpful, but don’t worry too much. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be talking about prejudice in writing, in reading, and my prejudice in both. I’m terrified: what if I say something stupid or just plain wrong? It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I should start discussing it somewhere where I can get feedback. I want to be a writer who does something meaningful, something true, and something unafraid.
This isn’t about being politically correct, about checking off my diversity list. This is about being honest. Any interest in joining me?