The Difference Between Prejudice And Postjudice

Lucie Skalova /
Lucie Skalova /

“Prejudice” is a loaded and deceptive word, because it implies that if you were only to spend enough time around a given group of people, you’d love the hell out of them. It also implies that you’d stop stereotyping them rather than start noticing patterns among them.

The word is derived from a Latin compound meaning “prior judgment”—in other words, making a decision about a subject without sufficient exposure to the thing you’re judging. And as the term is usually employed, you’re judging it negatively rather than positively. If a white person is said to be prejudiced against blacks—and that’s usually how it goes, because I can’t ever remember hearing that a black person is “prejudiced” against whites—the implication is that they’ve developed an irrational fear and hatred of them due to a lack of real-life contact with them. They are pre-judging them without enough experience to cast a reasonable judgment.

Gordon Allport’s landmark 1954 book The Nature of Prejudice gave rise to what is known as “contact theory,” which again implies that if you were merely to rub elbows enough with a group of people who are fundamentally different than you are, all your fears would melt away and you wouldn’t begin realizing that on average, they behave differently, hold different values, and perhaps even possess different cognitive and physical attributes than you do.

I use the term “on average” because it’s crucial. An exception may disprove an ironclad rule, but it does not entirely erase demonstrable statistical patterns. Every once in a while you’ll find a great Chinese basketball player, but that’s not the general pattern. Every so often I’ll run across a dumb Jewish person, but overall, Jews excel in academic endeavors far beyond their numbers. There are exceptions to every stereotype, whether positive or negative. But there are also observable patterns that gave rise to the stereotypes in the first place.

Two Indian boys recently tied for first place in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It marked the seventh straight year that Indian-Americans came in first. Seeing as how Americans of Indian ancestry comprise only 1% of the population, the odds that Indian-Americans would win for seven straight years are somewhere around 1 in 100 trillion. Considering that two of them won this year, that makes eight straight Indian-Americans doing better than every other American child. If one had zero preconceived notions that any ethnic group was better than any other one at spelling—in other words, if one was, without any evidence, prejudiced to believe that everyone is equal at spelling—the odds that eight Indian-Americans in a row would win are a staggering 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000.

So regarding Indian-Americans and spelling, I am not prejudiced about the fact that on average, they are great at it. I am postjudiced about it. I have reviewed the evidence and made a judgment afterward, not before it.

Many of you would claim that black people have every right to dislike and be suspicious of white people. But is that due to a lack of contact with them? No, you’d probably argue that it’s due to hundreds of years of contact with them. Therefore, many blacks are postjudiced regarding white people. They’re judging from experience, not lack of experience.

As a Philly cabdriver for years, I had plenty of black customers. In total over those years, I was tipped one dollar by black people. Even the black cabdrivers would complain about how black customers don’t tip. I know several people who work in the service industry, particularly restaurants, and they all have the same complaint—although there are exceptions, black people tip very poorly on average. Many of these people became waiters and waitresses with no preconceived notions—no prejudices—about how blacks might tip. Their pattern-recognition came from experience, so it constituted postjudice rather than prejudice. There’s even a study from Cornell University that lends support to this stereotype.

I’m constantly bemused with how much shit-talking and moral finger-pointing that white people from, say, an “enlightened” town such as Seattle do about those horrible “racist” white Southerners. But Seattle is only 8% black; Mississippi is 37% black. Historically, the South has always been the blackest part of the United States. More than half of black Americans still live in the South. So who really has had more contact with black people—snooty white progs in Seattle, or those perpetually demonized Southern rednecks? Who truly is prejudging here?

What if, say, you moved to Chile with no preconceived notions about how Chileans act, yet you had one horrible experience with them after the next for years and years until you decided to leave? Should you put blinders on, shut off what your brain is telling you, play an ethnic game of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and pretend that on average, you don’t like Chileans? Only if you’re a sissy who’s more afraid of social disapproval than you are of listening to your heart. (I’m only picking a country at random, so sit down and quit getting so excited. For all I know, Chileans could be wonderful people. I haven’t met enough of them to judge.)

And thus is one of the grand problems with the escalating insanity about this phantom, elusive, and ultimately unattainable ideal known as “equality”—it denies essential differences between people. It also denies people the right to develop their own tastes and distastes based on their personal experiences.

Is it dumb to form broad, blanket assumptions about people you’ve never met? Absolutely. Is it dumb to make generalizations about people after you’ve had extensive contact with them, even allowing that there are exceptions to general patterns? No—it’s called “noticing.” And therein lies the difference between prejudice and postjudice. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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