JONATHAN, a Korean-American, was a victim of racial prejudice as a child. As he grew up, he searched for a place where people would not prejudge him based on his facial features or racial background. He became a medical doctor in a town in northern Alaska, U.S.A., where his physical appearance was similar to that of many of his patients. He hoped that perhaps there, amid the cold winds of the Arctic Circle, he had finally escaped the even colder winds of prejudice.
Any such hope was shattered when he provided medical assistance to a 25-year-old woman. As the patient came out of a coma, she looked at Jonathan’s face and uttered a taunt with an expletive, revealing her deep-seated disdain for Koreans. For Jonathan, the incident was a painful reminder that all his efforts to move and to blend in could not provide him with an escape from prejudice.
Jonathan’s experience highlights a grim reality. Prejudice is found in every corner of the earth. It appears that wherever there are people, there is prejudice.
Despite the prevalence of prejudice, however, most people are quick to condemn it. This is truly a paradox. How could something so disliked be at the same time so widespread? Evidently, many who disapprove of prejudice fail to recognize it in themselves. Could that be true of you? How would you answer that question?
A PERSONAL ISSUE
Whether we realize it or not, it is difficult for us to detect if we harbor certain prejudices in our heart. The Bible explains why this is so when it states: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else.” (Jeremiah 17:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible) Thus, we might deceive ourselves into believing that we are tolerant of people of all types. Or we might rationalize that we have a valid reason to hold a negative view of people of certain groups.
To illustrate the challenge of discerning whether we might harbor a hidden prejudice, imagine the following scenario: You are walking down a street alone in the dark of night. Two young men whom you have never seen before are approaching you. They look strong, and one of them appears to have something in his hand.
Do you conclude that the young men pose a threat to you? Granted, your past experiences may tell you that you should be cautious, but do those experiences really justify your concluding that these two young men are a danger? A more probing question would be, Which race or ethnic group did you imagine these men to be? Your answer to this question could be quite revealing. It may indicate that to some extent, you have already been affected by the seeds of prejudice.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that deep down we all harbor varying degrees of prejudice in one form or another. Even the Bible acknowledges a very common form of prejudice when it states: “People judge others by what they look like.” (1 Samuel 16:7, Contemporary English Version) Since all of us are plagued with this human tendency—often with disastrous consequences—is there any hope that we can overcome or eliminate prejudice in our life? And will we ever see a time when the whole world will be free of prejudice?