Aaron Laskowski: Prejudice. Part 2.

Aaron Laskowski: Prejudice. Part 1.

I touched upon an important subject in the first part of my essay; the cause and conditioning of prejudice. In this part, I would like to bring forward a number of actions to reduce prejudice. I decided to concentrate on, in my opinion, two of the most effective methods. Information campaign is one of them, while creating an atmosphere of cooperation in schools is the other.

In 1954s, The US Supreme Court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” According to Earl Warren, when black children are separated from white children only because of their race, this builds a sense of inferiority in the segregated society and may have negative influence on their minds.

Social psychologists claimed that the way people think can change the way they act. But how to achieve such change? So, if it were possible for intolerant parents to become less prejudiced against another culture or race, would they not hesitate to allow their children to make friends with and attend schools with children of another race or culture? The psychologists employed the so-called ‘Hollywood method’ of limiting prejudice. To challenge the general perception of black people being lazy and indolent, they showed those who believed that a film that presented black people as diligent and decent people. However, the method based on the idea that disinformation can be counteracted by correct information, turned out to be wrong.

This strategy was employed in the case of Syrian and other Middle-East refugees. The pictures constantly shown in TV did not move the audience, on the contrary, they reassured the opponents in their conviction that if they i.e. refugees, made such a mess, they will do the same in Europe. Regardless of what lies at the fundament of the prejudice, whether it is caused by economic or political conflict or in the deeply rooted personality needs, it is not easy to change it by providing proper information. Particularly, when people are deeply engaged in their prejudiced behaviour and when the family, friends and colleagues also exude profound prejudice.

Where important issues are concerned, information campaigns fail, because people are not inclined to calmly absorb the information which contradicts their own views. Moreover, as it was mentioned in part one, if people are forced to absorb the information they do not agree with, they will ignore this information, reject it or in the worst case, distort it. In conclusion, even though the changes of opinions may initiate some changes in behaviour, it is still difficult to change social behaviour through education.

If it is not education, then what? According to Muzef Shefir, racial integration in schools may create environment for children to be better acquainted with one another. This is not, however, an ideal solution. The answer is not in simply sending children to schools where children of different origins and races are in the same class. The deciding factor is what happens in the class. If the school has highly competitive atmosphere – which happens often, all existing conflicts may, in fact, increase due to closer contacts among children.

Then how can we reduce this hostility?

Sherif achieved this by putting children in situations where they were dependent on one another. In order to achieve their goals, they had to co-operate. He thus managed to reduce hostile feelings and negative stereotypes.

So it does seem that the key factor in integration is interdependency, i.e. the situation where individuals need one another. In controlled experiments, the range of benefits from such cooperation were demonstrated many times. Morton Deutsch indicated that if there is an atmosphere of cooperation in the groups working on problem solving, the members of these groups become attentive and friendlier than in groups where the atmosphere of rivalry dominates. Additional research conducted by Patricia Keenan and Peter Carnevale jointly, showed that cooperation in one group can be transferred to cooperation in another group. Unfortunately, cooperation and interdependency are not characteristic to the process that happens in most of the schools. Competitiveness is and will no doubt be for a long time, a common place.

Diversity in the nation, town or even in neighbourhood or school may be a truly fascinating matter or the source of some turmoil. However, for the purpose of maximising the advantages of diversity, it is necessary for us to learn as a society how to keep the best relations, disregarding racial or ethnic divisions.

About the author: Aaron Laskowski holds a BA in Politics from the University of Nothampton.

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