Prejudices are derived from conclusions about people that are likely ingrained in us by others. I don’t believe people form negative conclusions about people outside of a negative experience unless someone has put that in their head. We often dodge the label of bigotry, whether internally or externally, because we don’t understand. We fail to acknowledge that we draw conclusions about cultures from our perception of skin color, gender, sexuality, and class. We don’t mind if someone is poor as long as they look presentable. People seem more likely to give people a chance based on good genes than character because we are quick to look at the obvious. We ignore perceptions ingrained in our being by others since birth.

We hear phrases such as: I’m not racist but.., I’m not sexist but..  I don’t hate men; I just don’t like..

Or even better. I’m not racist; my best friend is black. I’m not sexist; I have two sisters.

Some of the more critical thinkers may have some bigoted ideas; and while they at least consider if they are racist they conclude that they are not. Typically, this leads us to think about our coworker who we particularly like that is a different race. We pat ourselves on the back when we get along with a person of a different race, gender, or class who is culturally similar to us.  We conclude that we don’t have prejudices if a person of a different ethnicity is someone we enjoy being around – albeit at a distance. For instance, we hang out with that person at work but would not go to their house for dinner–that’s just too close for comfort.

I remember when I was younger a friend and I had a discussion about whether we could be close friends with a black girl. We concluded that we couldn’t because we didn’t think we wouldn’t have anything in common with her. At this point in my life, I liked black people. I had many black ‘work friends’ who I genuinely cared about. But my personal life? That was different. What would we talk about?

Let me be clear. At this point in my life, I was not an evil person. I did not want bad for people or blame specific races when something bad happened. However, I put cultural boundaries around my life. Boundaries set for white middle-class culture. Some black Americans and biracial Americans fit into that category. But overall, my cultural boundaries confined my racial boundaries.

Let me be clear about something else. At this point in my life, I was prejudice and inherently racist.

It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. It’s painful.

As a society, we must examine the prejudices within ourselves. Even though it hurts, we must analyze our conclusions about others.

Can I ask you to examine within yourself the conclusions you make about others? Can I ask you to challenge those opinions? To refrain from assuming you are right to believe what you do?

I read an article written by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author, titled “This is How Your Thoughts Become a Reality.” The article is about limiting the potential within yourself, but I would like to look at that concept from a different angle. We need to change the cycle of limiting the potential in ourselves and others.

Morin writes, “Once you draw a conclusion about [people], you’re likely to do two things; look for evidence that reinforces your belief and discounts anything that runs contrary to your belief.”

If you believe that all Muslims are jihadist, then each pressing story on the news about terrorist attacks reaffirms this belief. You ignore that fact that one person represents less than 1% of the Islamic population in America. Such beliefs, allow non-Islamic American’s to pat themselves on the back for being “right” while ignoring the 3.3 million muslims who are just as heartbroken as we are.

What if it isn’t actually religion, culture, gender, sexual preference, economic status, or age that creates a divide among people? What if it is our beliefs and thoughts? What if the war is in our minds?

Changing our perspectives of people can have serious impacts on divides. It’s not the magic solution to the problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Challenge yourself to realign your view of others. Examine the labels.

If you see a person and make an assumption such as but not limited to: loser, lazy, dork, delusional, crazy, narcissistic, idealist, realist, extremist, terrorist, racist, homophobic, jerk, stupid, pro-life, pro-choice, aggressive, weak, poor, rich, shy, snobby, smart, dumb, slut, prude, good, or bad.

Remind yourself that you don’t have to allow those beliefs to restrict the potential of others. “Just because you think something, doesn’t make it true.”

“We willingly accept statements without evidence of their validity. The assumptions become stereotypes, which soon become put-downs. Before you know it, we are engaged in name-calling or verbal abuse. People are complex, multifaceted, and multidimensional. When we apply labels to them, we put on blinders and see only a narrow view of an expansive and complicated human being” (Chuck Gallozzi).

When there is evidence that reinforces your belief, challenge yourself to look outside of the present situation. Look to all the people who are not those labels. Remind yourself of the time you assumed something, and you were terribly wrong. Remind yourself of a time someone assumed something about you.