Posted: April 4th, 2022
Prejudice has become a significant social problem in the U.S., particularly since the 2016 election: it seems that America is divided into multiple camps, none of them willing to tolerate the other, each thinking it knows what the other is about and believing that the other is bad for society. Prejudice occurs in the form of racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms, as Forscher, Mitamura, Dix, Cox and Devine (2017) point out. Conservatives and traditionalists feel they are prejudiced against by liberal groups. Liberals feel that conservatives are prejudiced against minorities and immigrants. There is anxiety on all sides and it has become a serious social problem that no one appears willing or able to address to the satisfaction of all, and now multiple people including Bill Maher and Pat Buchanan are fearing that a civil war could break out in America as a result (Blake, 2019; Buchanan, 2017).
Labeling theory best explains this problem as there are so many different sides, factions and tribal groups labeling all the other groups and deciding for themselves in a subjective manner who those groups are and what they stand for. Labeling theory posits that deviance is viewed as such because people who want to have power label it as deviance to show that it is different and unacceptable to what they are doing (Lumen, 2019). Liberals and conservatives both will accuse the other of a form of deviance from the social accepted norms and values that they both propagate.
The article by Forscher et al. (2017) focuses on showing that unconscious bias is basically the result of habit that is ingrained into the person’s mind. The researchers conducted an intervention designed to raise awareness about bias and prejudice and to see if it had a long term effect on participants. The researchers found that it did have an effect: the participants in the intervention were able to identify bias and view it as wrong even two years after the intervention. What the researchers showed was that the problem of prejudice in society can be addressed but it starts with education and raising awareness about unconscious bias and how it plays a part in how individuals perceive others and groups through the lens of stereotype.
The stage of the social movement that this issue is on could be viewed as bureaucratization. There are groups that have coalesced and come together to address prejudice—and colleges have create safe spaces to help those who feel marginalized and prejudiced against—but in doing so they have created and propagated their own prejudices, which is why labeling theory helps to explain what is going on here. Labeling theory shows that the reality of any situation depends on how people define or frame it. So for some there is the idea that privilege is a bad thing and that white privilege is to be blamed for all the ills in American society. This type of perspective applies a label from a position of power (colleges have empowered these groups), which is why the movement that the issue is on can be said to be the bureaucratization phase. There are higher levels of organization going on and awareness about the issue has been raised. However, there is still prejudice in perspectives even at this level, for the idea that privilege is bad when it is white privilege but not privilege for minorities is accepted by groups. The negative label of privilege placed on whites is an example of the prejudice of certain groups towards whites. If minorities receive privilege it is not labeled as something negative by the same groups.
This is but one example but it shows how prejudice is still ingrained even as organization is growing and awareness about prejudice is being raised. Groups still label and taunt one another and try to make the other look like the source of all the problems. In order to solve the problem it is going to take a strong leader who promotes empathy and sympathy and does not promote judgment or name calling or labeling. In today’s culture of political correctness and the cancel culture that has also emerged there is a tendency for people to want to cast stones at one another and exile or banish them from society for whatever transgression they may have committed in the past. It is a very puritanical approach to relationship-building and the spirit of the Scarlet Letter is very much present in today’s society. To solve the problem of prejudice what is needed is a spirit of forgiveness—not reproach. People need to accept that everyone is human and everyone has unconscious biases, but that does not mean they are all bad people deserving of condemnation. As Forscher et al. (2017) show, all it takes is a little education and people can realize that they harbor prejudice: most do not even know they have it in themselves. But by educating them about how they see and label others, they in turn are more likely to go out and educate their peers. In this manner, the problem of prejudice can be addressed. It is not going to be an overnight solution but rather one that takes time and effort. As George Herbert Mead shows in labeling theory, people need to stop projecting their own reality onto reality. The real reality is objective and true: people are inherently all the same, just with different inputs that impact their output.
The political view that best supports this approach is a moderate political view that is neither too left nor too right. The country now is too polarized and needs to be brought back to the center. Every social class is impacted by this issue from the low to the top 1% because they are all part of society and all play a role in how the culture is shaped, whether they are the ones running the culture industry or the ones receiving and accepting or rejecting that culture.
Blake, A. (2019). ‘There will be blood’: Maher sees civil war breaking out if we don’t ‘learn to live with each other’. Retrieved from https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/nov/16/bill-maher-says-second-civil-war-is-possible-learn/
Buchanan, P. (2017). Are We Nearing Civil War? Retrieved from https://buchanan.org/blog/nearing-civil-war-127177
Forscher, P. S., Mitamura, C., Dix, E. L., Cox, W. T., & Devine, P. G. (2017). Breaking the prejudice habit: Mechanisms, timecourse, and longevity. Journal of experimental social psychology, 72, 133-146.
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