Friday, April 20, 2007

Prejudice: disease model vs recovery model

The Disease Model for Understanding Prejudice

Assuming we succeed at modifying our behavior, can we eventually be completely free of bias against others? Can we rid ourselves of prejudice in the same way can cure a common cold or some other infection? The answer is no. Because prejudices develop slowly, over many years, they are resistant to instant cures. While we may quickly discover that a long-cherished stereotype is no longer accurate, our fundamental superiority/inferiority belief systems are far more difficult to modify and dismantle.

When it comes to heightening our awareness and changing our individual behavior, it is unrealistic to expect a "total cure" from prejudice. If we make this a personal goal, we are likely to become frustrated with our own progress. Therefore, viewing personal prejudice as a curable disease is an inappropriate metaphor. It sets us up for failure. It also makes us suspect in the eyes of others, who recognize the intractable nature of our bias. Instead of feeling reassured, aware people often shake their heads in disbelief when they hear a person proclaim, "I'm not prejudiced!" The statement itself is a sure sign of one's lack of awareness.

The Recovery Model for Understanding Prejudice

Instead of denying the depth and seriousness of the problem of prejudice, we can manage our own biases in a more productive manner. Each of us can learn to minimize the negative influences of prejudice through continuous discovery, reevaluation and reprogramming - but this awareness development requires ongoing attention. As such, we must view the future as a prolonged period of discovery and recovery.

As our personal awareness of otherness increases, we can look deeper and more objectively at old stereotypes, beliefs, and values. While we cannot rid ourselves of all personal prejudices, we can learn to manage them more productively - so they interfere less with our here-and-now perceptions and expectations of others.

The importance of self-management of prejudice was underscored recently in a major university study. In a series of experiments involving hundreds of participants, researchers found that while all participants were aware of negative racial stereotypes, "low prejudice" subjects were able to censor these inappropriate and negative stereotypes, while participants deemed "highly prejudiced" were strongly influenced by them.

As opposed to achieving a total cure, we can learn to censor stereotypes and prejudices as we increase our personal involvement with others. We can also help institutions change by pointing out ways in which the organizational culture and its systems can disadvantage othersand impede their ability to contribute fully.

Marylin Loden and Judy Rosener, PhD. Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource.

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