Us and Them: Prejudice, Awareness and Understanding

By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

Whether we realize it or not, we are all prejudiced. That’s because our brains are wired to categorize and think in stereotypes based upon our experiences and perceptions. If we have limited experience interacting with individuals who are different than us in some way, we have to base our expectations on other information, like what we see in print and on television. That’s why the portrayal of various groups in the media is so important because it can shape our attitudes and biases. Similarly, we are all vulnerable to “Us and Them” thinking. That’s why we have gridlock in Washington, D.C. and ongoing international clashes throughout the world. Regardless of our ethnic, racial, or political views, most of us would agree that mutual understanding, respect, and world peace are important and admirable goals.

While Boulder is often viewed as a progressive, liberal bastion, the truth is that we have a long way to go in terms of our own understanding, respect, and perceptions of people who are different than us. Just ask a member of any minority group in our community about how they feel perceived by others when walking down the street or going into a store. Think about how most adult Caucasians might feel walking down an alley at night and coming upon a group African American teens. While we may not like to admit it to ourselves, all of us our vulnerable to prejudice and “Us and Them” thinking.

The solution starts with acknowledgement of the problem. Once we are aware of our prejudices we can change them by learning more truths about others to replace stereotypes, which are based on limited, distorted information. The best thing you can do for your children is to seek out diverse social opportunities for them so that they can have real experiences with folks that are different from them. Let’s shift from distrust, based on lack of knowledge and experience, to inclusion and acceptance. That way we all benefit.

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