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The Nature Of Prejudice, 25th Anniversary Edition

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2006

    Life on the street is elevated and suddenly the commonplace speaks.

    'The Nature of Prejudice' by Gordon Willard Allport (1897-1967), one of America's most beloved psychologists, has become the definitive work on this formidable, yet enthusing subject. Allport, a major proponent of the humanistic approach and personality trait theory, originally penned this masterwork in 1954, a few decades after rendezvousing with Sigmund Freud, in Vienna. His book examines prejudice in relation to thinking processes, activities in groups, cultural/social/psychodynamic and characterological factors, as well as how it is acquired and resolved. The very first query I asked myself, when reading this book, was what is prejudice? Allport is succinct when he derives his definition from Thomistic moralists, offering: 'thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant.' Discrimination, he adds, is denying same of equal treatment. Overcategorization, in an impetuously lived world where one strives to adjust to simplicity, fuels the process of misconception. This segues into prejudgement and only becomes known as prejudice when such erroneous beliefs are refractory to facts--once evidenced. Allport also argues that prejudice is not ideally a value concept promulgated by the disapproval of human behaviour by specific civilizations in history. In fact, he says that it is much the same, psychologically speaking, anywhere and anytime, that is, attitudes of negativity against people maintained by false overgeneralization. So I then wondered just how and why people became prejudiced. Allport shed light on this matter with his effulgent descriptions of 'in-groups' and corresponding 'out-groups.' The most influential example of the former is the family, where the child learns the psychology of conformity--that he is a member of his parents' various groups, which define who he is. Later, the child might eschew some of these rubrics, while friends, school, church, et al, also become part of the 'we' in his classification of who he is. His values and belief system, which ratify individual personality development with its subsequent difficulties, the author explicitly states, are paramount in the growth of prejudice. Therefore, when one's habits are threatened in said group, a hostility ensues, which often leads to prejudice towards the 'out-group'--the others, where the person does not feel a camaraderie and perhaps scapegoats/projects unacceptable sentiments on them to achieve conflict resolution--with its encumbent tension reduction, to fulfill his needs. Conditioning, perception, catharsis, status and class all come into play here. Now, what can be done to assuage prejudice, thereby transforming society into a more affable place? In the end of this tome, Allport discusses reducing group tensions through a more tolerant personality. He suggests that education, desegregation and community contact are all imperative, too. In 'The Nature of Prejudice' by the legendary Gordon Allport, the uncanny secret residing in everyone is unveiled, because it assisted me in comprehending why we all, sometimes at least, harbour this demon, its essence, and how to exorcise it. If you're intrigued by the fascinating topic of prejudice, this is the volume you peruse first, where life on the street is elevated and suddenly the commonplace speaks.

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