Prejudice Can Be Conquered!
PREJUDICES, according to sociologist Frederick Samuels, “become a basic part of an individual’s personality structure . . . They involve his self-esteem, his self-image . . . It would be as difficult to surrender certain attitudes and group images as it would be to surrender an arm or a leg.”
Many, though, imagine that if the races could just be made to work together and get to know one another, prejudice would somehow vanish. Unfortunately, this works somewhat better in theory than in practice. Integration at times boomerangs and amplifies racial hostilities. On the other hand, consider one integrated school in the southern part of the United States. There black and white students work together in relative peace. An end of prejudice? The authors of Desegregated Schools: Appraisals of an American Experiment observe that students still choose to sit with and almost exclusively socialize with members of their own race. “Informal segregation,” researchers call it.
Racial harmony is therefore often little more than peaceful coexistence. If the different races are ever to learn to love and understand one another, more will have to be done than merely bringing them in contact with one another. But what? The United Nations made a feeble attempt by sponsoring the “Second World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.” (August 1-13, 1983) But as expected, all that came of it were more theories and high-sounding rhetoric.
New Perspectives on Race and Nationality
People are not about to relinquish their deep-seated attitudes and prejudices unless they have powerful motivation to do so. And for many thousands such motivation has developed through studying the Bible. It can reach hearts and move to action like no other book in the world. “For the word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) Suppose, for example, that you were one who harbored animosity toward a certain race or nationality. If you began studying the Bible, you would soon realize that it teaches that “God does not go by a man’s outward appearance,” “but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—Galatians 2:6; Acts 10:34, 35.
Accepting that God “made out of one man every nation of men,” is bound to make you reevaluate your views toward people of other races. (Acts 17:26) How can one view as inferior people with different skin color, hair texture and shape of eyes and nose that are characteristic of different races if he has developed a friendship with God who created out of one man every nation of men?
True, the different races seem to have prominent personality traits—good and bad. The Bible, however, cautions: “Keep these things without prejudgment [“prejudice,” Today’s English Version], doing nothing according to a biased leaning.” (1 Timothy 5:21) A Christian thus lets each one “prove what his own work is” rather than judge a man’s worth by his color or race.—Galatians 6:4.
The apostle Paul, for example, noted that the inhabitants of Crete had the unsavory reputation of being “liars, injurious wild beasts, unemployed gluttons.” (Titus 1:12) This did not mean, however, that these traits were somehow inherent or that they existed in all Cretans. For Paul instructed Titus to search there in Crete for men who had risen above this and appoint such ones to responsible positions in the congregation.—Titus 1:5.
Admittedly, it is tempting at times to conclude that certain ethnic traits are “in the blood.” A certain racial group, for example, may have a number of idle and unemployed members. ‘They’re just lazy,’ some hastily conclude. A Christian, though, has compassion for people. He realizes that many are “skinned and thrown about” by this vicious, uncaring world. (Matthew 9:36) Why, in many lands racial bias and economic conditions lock people out of suitable jobs! So, what often appears to be laziness turns out to be hopelessness and despair. Such ones need spiritual help and understanding—not harsh criticism.
This brings to mind the apostle Paul’s counsel to do everything with “lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) Accepting this advice may require a radical change in one’s thinking. As in the first century, many feel “superior” because they have a secular education or high social standing. Yet Paul reminded first-century Christians that “God chose the foolish things of the world . . . and the things looked down upon.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28) These lowly ones had a humility and sincerity that in God’s eyes made them “superior.” Can a person be prejudiced if he takes this godly view of others?
On the Receiving End
On the other hand, perhaps you have for a long time been the victim of prejudice and realize that few indeed will ever try to overcome their biases. The Bible can help you appreciate that it is futile to expect justice in this present, crooked social order. “That which is made crooked cannot be made straight,” said Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 1:15) God therefore has promised to eradicate all injustices eventually, and knowledge of this can be a real source of comfort to you!—Psalm 37:1-11; 72:12-14.
For the time being, though, you may need to find ways to cope with prejudice. In response to bigotry, some develop a prejudice of their own, concluding that everyone of another race is biased. They become overly sensitive, taking offense at the most innocent of remarks. The Bible, however, warns at Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended.” Learn to give others the benefit of the doubt and you’ll spare yourself much irritation.
Recall, too, that Jesus often experienced rejection from his Jewish countrymen. Yet he encouraged his disciples to approach people optimistically. “Wherever you enter into a house,” Christ said, “say first, ‘May this house have peace.’” (Luke 10:5, 6) Surely it is better to approach people with the expectation and desire of having peace than to arm yourself emotionally for conflict.
What, though, if you are a victim of injustice, like one Nigerian couple whose prospective landlord in England reneged on a promise to rent them an apartment? (People complained they did not want to have black neighbors.) What an affront to a person’s dignity! The Bible nonetheless cautions against “forcing one another to a showdown.” (Galatians 5:26; footnote of 1984 New World Translation, Reference Bible) This usually serves only to entrench bias and hate more deeply. And responding with anger usually just makes a bad situation worse.
Jesus gave this advice: “Do not resist him that is wicked; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek [acts insultingly toward you], turn the other also to him.” Paul adds: “Return evil for evil to no one . . . If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. . . . Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Matthew 5:39-44; Romans 12:17-21) Responding to hatred with kindness takes real moral strength. But by refusing to let bigotry fill you with resentment, you rise above it.
Seeking the Advantage of Others
One Jamaican bride learned yet another lesson about conquering prejudice. When her African husband’s family more or less ostracized her, she started looking at things from their viewpoint. She recalls: “I saw that the finger of prejudice could also be pointed toward me. I wouldn’t wear their clothes, disliked their food and made no effort to learn their language. So I decided to try to learn some expressions in their language. Whenever I said anything in their language, they would respond enthusiastically: ‘Ah, you are becoming one of us now!’”
Yes, one loses nothing and gains a lot by honoring the wholesome aspects of other people’s cultures. Thus if you come from a country where people tend to be spirited, make some adjustments if you move to a country where people tend to be reserved. The Bible says appropriately: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24, 31-33) Remember, it is selfishness and intolerance that are often at the root of prejudice.
The Bible is therefore full of practical counsel that can help individuals both to conquer and to cope with prejudice. Doing so is not always easy, even for devout Christians. Consider what happened some time ago during an intermission at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A woman carrying a tray of food bumped into a chair and spilled her drink all over another woman’s legs. This might have seemed insignificant except for one fact: One woman was black, the other white.
The brief but angry exchange that followed revealed a pent-up racial animosity. Under ordinary circumstances an apology might have been out of the question! With the aid of an onlooker, these two women were reminded that they were Christians. They knew racial prejudice was wrong and that they could not remain in God’s favor if they did not make peace with each other. (1 John 4:20) It was touching indeed to see these two women tearfully embrace and apologize to each other. More importantly, they put the incident behind them and conversed like old friends.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have thus taken great strides toward eliminating bias. See for yourself. There are literally millions of them who bear living testimony to the fact that God’s Word indeed has power—power enough to conquer even prejudice.
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How can you view as inferior people of different races when God “made out of one man every nation of men”?
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Responding to hatred with kindness takes real moral strength
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By refusing to let bigotry fill you with resentment, you rise above it
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Studying the Bible forces a person to reevaluate his feelings toward people of different races