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Overcoming Cultural Prejudice Begins with Understanding one another

Prejudice. It’s a dirty word. But it is vitally important that we understand the dangers of allowing ourselves to judge other cultures as well as the dangers of allowing our own culture to be judged by others. As we know, it is the judging of others that leads to suspicion, distrust, animosity, and a sense of superiority. But what really drives these types of reactions is a fear of the unknown.

Our ignorance of one another and of cultures different than our own results in the natural instinct to identify with our own people. And by clinging to the culture and the people with which we are familiar, we instinctively push away those that are different from us.

But it is the ability to accept; even embrace people of different cultures that leads to personal growth. The old-school concept of “Orientalism” teaches not acceptance of one another, but prejudice. The idea that Western culture is superior to the “others” should not be acceptable to the enlightened today. But sadly, prejudices continue to exist.

The concept of Orientalism comes from the days of colonization. During this period in history, the British felt that they had an obligation to colonize primitive’ cultures. Their belief that their culture was superior to the subject of their colonization’ was the driving force behind their actions.

It is impossible to define a culture from outside and that we must take that into consideration when we interpret the teachings of one culture about another. Much like the writings of the bible, the teachings within a culture are subject not only to the biases, intentions and interpretations of the authors, but by the biases and interpretations of the readers. And so, we must be careful when using these materials to judge one another. Without an internal understanding of another culture, we cannot make an unbiased judgment. Therefore, we should not judge.

Based on the biases of the colonization times, the people of the least known cultures were said to be “sexualized, eroticized, in racially charged fields.” (Just Love, Farley p. 66) This of course, was a Western interpretation of a culture of which they had little understanding, based on the biases of Western culture at the time. It is this type of prejudice that leads to misunderstanding between people of different cultures.

At this point in time, any culture that did not subscribe to Western beliefs was deemed to be uncivilized, and the British felt it was their moral duty to civilize them. Today we understand just how preposterous this theory actually is. And yet, we still find behavior such as this occurring.

A perfect example is our nation’s sense of moral obligation to bring democracy to the “uncivilized world”. If we take Iraq as an example, our leaders felt justified in invading another country with a culture very different than ours. Their government system is very different from ours. And while we may believe our system is superior, it is not up to us to make that judgment; and yet we did.

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.