How Can We Overcome Prejudice?
You may have already wondered, what’s the differences in prejudice, stereotypes, and my own
personal preferences? I had a student ask me, “If I don’t like Chinese food, does that make me
prejudiced?” I think this was a sincere question. I explained that it does not make her prejudiced
to simply prefer one food over another, one genre of film over another, or one style of car over
another. See the Figure 4 below.
Figure 4. The Difference Between Personal Preferences, Prejudices, and Stereotypes
The best way to understand prejudiced thinking is to understand the concept of categorical
thinking. Categorical Thinking is the human cognitive process of storing and retrieving
information in sections of our memory that are highly associated with one another. For example,
read this list: awake, dream, snore, bed, eat, slumber, sound, wake, and night.
Now pick the single best word that categorically fits into this list: computer, wheel, or sleep.
Most of my students pick sleep because it so highly related to the original list of concepts. The
point is, we think in associations and categories. That’s why if you get wheeled into an
emergency room with a fever, side ache, perspiration, and nausea that suddenly hit, doctors
suspect Appendicitis. Categorical thinking saves lives, helps you to pass tests, and keeps
students employed when their bosses see them as good employees. It is true that categorical
thinking makes it so we can function, but it also is the thinking process which underlies prejudice
and stereotypes in our relationships. The key is to control categorical thinking, prejudices, and
First, you have to do some self-analysis and discover where you might have learned your
prejudices. Many people are taught prejudice from: family, friends, teachers, religious leaders,
television, internet, and other agents and agencies of socialization. It’s feels strange to think that
family might teach other family members to be prejudiced, but this may be one of the more