How to address our racial and ethnic prejudices

Meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them…

– Howard Thurman

Conversations by hafeez; used under a Creative Commons license.

Once we recognize an ethnic or racial bias within ourselves, most likely we want to cease any stereotyping. We want to avoid clumping people together according to race, religion, or national origin. But prejudice gives rise to conditioned reflexes that can be difficult to control. Below are some suggestions that may help shed fear and cultivate a tolerant heart.

  1. Racial and ethnic divides involve a lack of understanding. Learn as much as possible about the history and culture of any group in question.
  2. Empathy can dissolve prejudice. Try to feel yourself in the skin of people from the other race or ethnic group. Try to walk in their shoes.
  3. Most especially, make a concerted effort to get to know some individuals from the “other group” on a personal basis:
    • Invite them into your home.
    • Visit them in their homes.
    • Enjoy some meals with one another.
    • Do some fun things together.
    • Engage in meaningful conversation.
  4. Ask a friend or acquaintance who is from the “other group” how they would suggest that you begin to understand their experience. Listen to their thoughts with  humility and an open heart..
  5. If developing such personal relationships is impossible, you can get a sense of knowing people from that group by reading novels, watching movies, and going to plays that convey their everyday life. However, before taking this step, ask yourself:  Is it really impossible, or just too challenging? Could it be worth the challenge?
  6. Biases can produce a visceral response that prevents us from seeing deeper into the immediate situation; for example a reaction of fear upon seeing a young African American male come toward you on the street. Try to become aware of such responses in yourself and to understand their origin. Work toward recognizing these conditioned responses when they occur and cultivate the ability to see beyond them into what is actually happening at that moment and in that situation.
  7. Designate a specific time each day (for instance, just after brushing your teeth, or while taking a shower or walking the dog) to find an inner stillness for at least a few minutes. During this time, hold people from the “other group” at the center of your being. Feel your own desire to let go of all intolerance. Commit yourself to faithfully honor this brief sacred time on a daily basis. During these moments of inner stillness, bask in the divine presence.

It can take a very long time to shed prejudice completely, possibly even a lifetime. But doing so is a way to inner peace and also helps bring peace to the various communities of which we are a part. So persevere.