How to Deal with Prejudice
Dealing with prejudice as a perpetrator
- People who can recognize their own prejudicial attitudes are better able to combat those attitudes. However, confronting one’s own prejudice can be difficult. Sociologist Robin DiAngelo argues that white people have been socialized into “white fragility.” This fragility includes the tendency to become angry and excessively sensitive in response to evidence of one’s own racism. A similar phenomenon may be at play with other forms of prejudice.
- Only by recognizing prejudice—not insisting that one harbors no prejudice—can a person truly move beyond prejudicial attitudes and the hurtful actions they inspire. Therapy can help people to understand and recognize these attitudes.
- Diversity is also a powerful antidote to prejudice. People tend to choose friends who are similar to them. By seeking relationships across difference, people begin to push back against stereotypes. A white person who is friends with many black people, for instance, is less likely to harbor stereotypes or to view black people as a monolith.
- Empathy is key to overcoming prejudice. People who can empathize with others’ feelings are better equipped to let go of their own prejudice. For some people, their own experience with prejudice can foster empathy. A black man, for instance, might use his own experience with fear and oppression as a way to empathize with a white woman’s fear of sexual abuse or experience of gender-related oppression.
Dealing with prejudice as a victim
- Prejudice is the responsibility of those who harbor it. To suggest that a victim of prejudice has a responsibility to change the mind of a prejudiced person is victim-blaming. Little research supports the idea that any specific strategy enacted by victims can get perpetrators to change their minds.
- Instead, people who are victims of prejudice should focus on self-care and healthy coping skills. Some strategies that may help include:
- Build a strong network of supportive, caring people.Friends and family who believe a person about their experiences can make it easier to cope with prejudice.
- Develop a strong cultural identity.Research has found that people who develop strong positive associations with their culture, race, or gender are better equipped to manage the stress of prejudice and discrimination.
- Identify, combat, and reframe negative thoughts. Discrimination and prejudice can be internalized. A woman exposed to constant pressure to look a certain way may begin to believe that her primary source of worth is her appearance. Identifying and tackling these thoughts, often with the help of a therapist, can help restore a healthy sense of self-worth.
- Push back against prejudice when possible and practical.Complaining about a racist teacher, documenting wage gaps, and reporting sexual harassment may help restore a sense of agency and offer greater access to equitable treatment.
- Take a break from triggering media and people.Following a high-profile sexual assault case, a woman who was raped might feel triggered and anxious. Taking a break from social media and spending time around people who are sensitive to the effects of sexual assault may help restore a sense of balance.