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Why I admit to being prejudiced

When Los Angeles' Museum of Tolerance opened in 1993, it was widely reported that the museum's entrance had two doors, one for people who are "prejudiced" and one for people who are "not prejudiced"---and if you chose to enter via the "not prejudiced" door, you find it is locked.

(Of course, that museum is in America, and we all know Americans are prejudiced, but British---oh, wait.)

It's less often reported that the museum's Holocaust section has a sign saying "who is responsible?" with the answer ``you are". While I don't approve blaming that particular atrocity on every single human (what about those who risked their lives to help the victims?), the message that all of us have some degree of prejudice is a sound one---``not a just man upon earth [always] doeth good and sinneth not''---so perhaps the museum's sign would be better understood as "you are responsible for avoiding the next one."

As a person registered with a visual disability, I myself am a member of at least one protected minority group. I was beaten up at school and have since been spat at and vilified by passing cars and street louts, and I wouldn't do that myself, but sadly I must report that being their victim does not give me complete immunity to developing prejudices of my own.

A prejudice can develop as a natural protection mechanism. For example, growing up near the sea, I had the bad experience of a large lightly-clad holidaymaker throwing litter in my direction, so I developed a prejudice that large lightly-clad holidaymakers are nasty. My higher-level thoughts may be questioning the Bayesian priors of that inference, but my instinct would rather err on the side of caution than hang around to find out if I get clouted with any more objects. If I later discover that an otherwise-sensible person happens to take sunbathing holidays, I have to consciously process that the neurons now flagging up ``nasty'' are misfiring.

I try to treat my brain's tendency to form opinions like an imperfect scientific instrument giving me measurements. In measurement, a bias is a systematic error. So the fix is obvious: if I know an instrument always gives a reading that's too high, and if fixing the instrument itself is too difficult, then at least I can compensate by working out how much I should subtract from each of the readings it gives me.

我们人类不喜欢承认自己有偏见,因为我们想着“偏见人”的典型例子就是毫不在乎自己偏见的坏人。不过,“毫不在乎我的偏见”不如“知道我有偏见,我试试修改那误差的后果”。作为编码员,我发觉“不犯错”的技巧没有探测和处理错误那么重要。自觉一无是处不如只想“哦,我的系统犯了以下的这些错,让我看看哪个我会修补。” 希望我至少能树立个还可以的处理自己难题的榜样。
As humans, we don't like to admit we're prejudiced because our image of the archetypical "prejudiced person" is someone who doesn't care about being prejudiced. But "I'm prejudiced and I don't care" is very different from "I'm prejudiced and I'm trying to work around that problem". As a coder, I find the skill of not making mistakes is secondary to the skill of catching them before they go too far. It rarely helps to think "I'm such a rubbish person" instead of "OK, so my system made the following errors, let's see which bugs I can now fix or patch over." I hope to at least set a reasonable example in how to deal with having these issues.

我们不想承认自己有偏见的另一个理由很可能是我们害怕我们承认的不良后果。不少组织有“零容忍政策”,这些规则一般惩罚具体类型的偏见行为,比如种族歧视行为。但不是每一个人都同意“种族主义”的定义。比如,假如其他国家的政府是被另一种族控制而法令一些我误解或不愿意同意的律法,那等于我是种族主义者吗? 我的《牛津词典三版本》没这样说,但谁说我们仍然用那个词典? 记者说法庭判决“种族主义者”那个词已经被冲淡了,所以被人诬告为“种族主义者”不再等于诽谤,只是个跟律法无关的个人辱骂。解雇规则等可能包含更严格的定义,但这不是所有人知道的,所以很容易想,承认有偏见——任何样子的偏见——限制只在脑海里奋斗偏见——就等于承认自己得被解雇、排斥、被社会忽略等等。这好像对偏见的偏见。
Another reason we don't like to admit we're prejudiced is probably fear of negative consequences of our admission. Many groups advocate "zero tolerance" policies. These are usually aimed at specific prejudicial actions, such as acts of racism. But not everybody agrees what "racism" means---for example, am I a racist if one of the world's governments, run by people of a different ethnicity to myself, makes a law that I misunderstand or fail to agree with? That doesn't match the ODE 3rd Edition's definition of "racism" but who said we still use that? Courts have reportedly opined that the meaning of "racist" has been diluted so much that falsely calling someone "racist" no longer counts as defamation, but is merely "name-calling" that is not legally actionable by itself. (The 2018 case of McAnulty vs McCulloch hinged on proven career damage---paragraph 37.) Corporate dismissal policies use specific definitions of "racism" but not everyone knows that (and sometimes it gets missed, for example in 2021 a major UK bank wrote to customers saying their accounts can now be closed for racism without defining it---their customer services told me it means anything their staff dislike, except in "Basic" accounts which have stronger laws about who can hold one). As word usages expand, it would be easy to think that admitting to even an internal struggle with prejudice---any prejudice---is grounds for dismissal, ostracism, exclusion or whatever: prejudice against prejudice.

I don't mean to minimise the seriousness of seriously-bad actions, but we shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge that we all have prejudices---they're more dangerous if we don't know about them. Hopefully, consciously managing one's prejudices is not grounds for exclusion. Hi I'm Silas Brown and I have prejudices. I try to do something about it, and I hope you can too.

Disclaimer: nothing here is legal advice.

All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.