If anything, history has proven time and time again that the human race is prejudiced. Whether it be racism, sexism, religious hatred, or homophobia, many people express unwarranted hate toward those who are different from themselves. Prejudice, although rooted in psychological phenomena, has evolved in its delivery over the years, and it is more important than ever that we educate ourselves to prevent the spread of dangerous ideals.
As noted by Dr. Rob B. Aviran, in a Psychology Today Article, prejudice is rooted in the brain’s desire to categorize people, ideas, and memories. This mechanism allows the brain to effectively store massive quantities of information – often categorizing social information in as little as 100 milliseconds after viewing someone’s face.
However, it is worth noting that prejudiced beliefs are also influenced by a variety of factors – particularly one’s social environment. In an interview with the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, anthropologist James Herron, PhD, describes racism as a “product of specific historical and social forces,” and thus, something that is “subject to change.” In other words, the beliefs and actions of those around us can either perpetuate or diminish dangerous prejudices, meaning we all play a role in combating them.
On this topic, Noya Chirashnya, co-president of the Leigh High School Jewish Club described how “Antisemitism has always been at a large, especially in WW2 (for obvious reasons).” When asked how she thought antisemitism evolved, she credited social media, as “more people feel more secure in expressing their antisemitism when they’re behind a screen or when they’re annonymous… rhetoric that is being traded back and forth could be antisemitic without anoyne even realizing it.”
The idea of online hate speech isn’t anywhere near novel. Shanon Martinez is the program director of the Free Radicals Project which helps people leave extremist groups. In an interview with the Washington Post, she expressed how “the digital world gives white suppremicists a safe place to explore their extreme ideologies and intensify their hate without consequence. The Post went on to interview Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, who observed that hiding behind fake, prejudiced identities in the internet helps “lauder white supremacy into the mainstream.”
Noya credited this “mainstreaming” with feelings of unease expressed by some Jewish individuals. She recalls how “there have been a lot more instances where synagogues will get shot up, or that Jewish business and places get broken into and sprayed with disgusting words.”
Although prejudice and hate crimes have evolved with the rise of the internet, this doesn’t make them any less severe. Dangerous prejudices impact the day-to-day lives of those around us, so it is critical that we remain cognizant of what we believe and of the information we choose to share. Noya urges students to “do their research,” particularly as it pertains to antisemitism, because “certain phrases and ideas have an antisemantic background” – sometimes without students even realizing it.
However, her advice expands to nearly every issue surrounding prejudice. Education ensures that we, on an individual level, are holding ourselves accountable for fostering an inclusive and cognizant environment. Prejudice may have some roots in psychology, but that is no excuse to negate the impacts it has and the efforts we can make to fight it.