Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Overcome Feelings of Racial Prejudice?
Researchers in Sydney, Australia, submitted questionnaires to a multiracial group of children, 9-13 years old, allowing them to express their feelings toward people of other races. Though some white Australian children expressed prejudice toward minorities, “children from all ethnic groups revealed themselves as prejudiced towards other ethnic groups as Australian children were, and often more so.”—The Journal of Psychology.
YOUNG people are not immune to racial prejudice. “In my school,” says 17-year-old Lucy, “most of the white children eat in one lunchroom and all of the blacks in another.”
Just what are your feelings toward people of other races? While you may know at heart that prejudice is foolish, unfair, and obsolete, you may still have somewhat mixed feelings. As researchers Jane Norman and Myron W. Harris, Ph.D., observed: “The vast majority of . . . white and nonwhite teenagers agree that they do not want to be prejudiced. But they are wary and often distrustful of each other. They are also aware that friends and parents may be hostile if they develop close contacts across racial lines.” Similar racial tensions exist in many lands.
Feelings of unease around members of other races can also afflict Christian youths who have been taught that prejudice is wrong. They may live in areas where exposure to other races is limited or where racial tensions run high. Where, though, do feelings of racial bias originate?
The Workings of Racial Prejudice
To be prejudiced means to prejudge. One who is racially prejudiced thus judges others without a trial. He concludes that any member of a certain race automatically has certain undesirable habits, traits, or attitudes. He nurtures this bias even in the face of facts that clearly contradict his notions. He may, for example, believe that all members of a certain group are ‘lazy’ or ‘unintelligent.’ When confronted with someone of that group who is industrious—or even brilliant—he concludes that such a person must be an “exception.” Sadly, he is blind to individual qualities.
Prejudice, though, is not inborn. The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior says: “Observations made the world over have shown that children play indiscriminately with members of other ethnic groups, and are either unaware of obvious physical differences or accept them as a matter of course.” Continues the encyclopedia: “Prejudices are . . . wholly due to learning, and are acquired primarily through interaction with other people.” Parents, teachers, and peers appear to be instrumental in passing on racial bias. At times, unpleasant encounters with members of another race work to reinforce this prejudice.
Many of us, therefore, have unwittingly picked up attitudes and views that are prejudicial. And it often takes some real soul-searching for one honestly to face his feelings in this regard. For example, you may have friends of other races. But do you make disparaging, racially oriented remarks behind their backs? When conversing with these friends, do you keep the issue of race to the fore, perhaps by always harping on racial differences or by making tasteless, belittling jokes? Observes the book The Nature of Prejudice: “Even when jokes seem friendly they can sometimes mask genuine hostility.” Furthermore, do you feel awkward and uncomfortable being seen in public with friends of another race? Do you automatically assume that members of another race possess certain talents—or flaws?
“I get so angry with myself for having such feelings,” lamented one youth who honestly faced his prejudices, “but somehow I do not seem to be able to quench them.”
God’s View of Race
Acknowledging the problem, though, is a big step toward tackling it. It also helps to understand how God views the different races. Consider, for example, a situation that developed back in the first century. Lingering racial tension between Jews and Gentiles afflicted the Christian congregation. On one occasion the apostle Peter yielded to peer pressure and “went withdrawing and separating himself” from Gentile Christians, refusing even to eat with them! When the apostle Paul learned of this, he did not sympathize with Peter. Rather, he “resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned.” Racial prejudice was not to be tolerated among Christians! In the words of Paul, “God does not go by a man’s outward appearance.”—Galatians 2:6, 11-14.
Acts 10:34, 35 adds that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” True, a certain race may have different skin color, facial features, or hair texture from your own. But since God “made out of one man every nation of men,” the amazing variety among the races is the work of God! (Acts 17:26) Furthermore, God does not condemn all the foods, music, styles of dress, speech, and decorum that vary from race to race. Thus, when the apostle Paul worked among non-Jews, he did not look with contempt upon their habits, though many were no doubt contrary to his Jewish upbringing. Says Paul: “To those without law [non-Jews] I became as without law [showing respect for their customs].”—1 Corinthians 9:21.
A person who harbors hatred or scorn for people of different races, therefore, simply could not be pleasing to God!
Overcoming the Feelings
Still, purging oneself of long-held feelings is not easy. Talking matters over with a close friend or parent may help. It may also help to follow the Bible’s counsel to “widen out” in your dealings with others. (2 Corinthians 6:12, 13) If possible, do not limit your association to individuals of your own race, culture, and social standing. Says The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior: “Association and communication enable individuals to know and appreciate each other, and frequently change their attitudes toward one another.”
A young man named Chris, who lived in a predominantly white town, found this to be true. “I wasn’t raised to be prejudiced,” says Chris. “But when I got into secondary school, I used to get picked on by black kids all the time. I developed the feeling that they were all troublemakers. I grew to fear them. And since the part of town they lived in was quite run-down, I concluded that blacks must all be lazy.”
Chris, though, began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Learning God’s view of the matter, his own view toward blacks began to soften. Later Chris began serving at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, and was assigned to a racially mixed congregation. “I was face-to-face with the problem now. But I began visiting their homes and eating with them.” The effect of this exposure was healthy. “I came to realize that they’re just the same as everybody else.”
Yes, within the Christian congregation are individuals “of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9) Get to know some of them. Observe how, in spite of their differing backgrounds, they manage to work unitedly in a way that pleases God. Stop viewing people as members of groups; come to know them as individuals, ‘letting each one prove what his own work is.’ (Galatians 6:4) Be yourself and apply the golden rule: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12, The Jerusalem Bible) If feelings of superiority well up within you, prayerfully try to apply the Bible’s counsel to ‘consider that the others are superior to you.’—Philippians 2:3.
Of course, your negative views did not develop overnight, and they will likely not disappear overnight. But with time and diligent effort, along with perseverance, feelings of prejudice can be overcome.
[Box on page 21]
Is the Black Race Cursed?
Some have attempted to justify their prejudice by claiming that God cursed the black race. However, no such curse is recorded in the Bible. True, Genesis 9:25 says: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.” However, that oft-cited verse says nothing whatsoever about skin color. Besides, the black race evidently descended from a brother of Canaan named Cush. (Genesis 10:6, 7; see the footnote in the “New World Translation Reference Bible” for Isaiah 43:3, where the name Cush is used to refer to the African country of Ethiopia.) Canaan’s descendants were evidently light-skinned—not black.