When I first heard prejudice was this week’s topic, I figured I wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Characters in my book come from various ethnic and racial backgrounds, but issues of prejudice over these differences never enter the picture. But then I realized that prejudice isn’t confined to only race or gender. Prejudice, both positive and negative, pops up everywhere, often in more subtle ways.
Take Ashlee, Dana’s immature younger sister. She’s under the impression that everyone over the age of forty is boring and uncool. Mind you, she isn’t good friends with or particularly close to anyone over forty, other than her own mother, so she has little personal experience to back up her assessment, but that’s never stopped Ashlee from making ridiculous comments about anyone with gray hair or plenty of wrinkles around their eyes.
Similarly, Dana believes that all vegetarians are healthy. Never mind that she has no idea whether or not any of these vegetarians ever exercise or what their latest cholesterol or blood pressure numbers are. She has no way of knowing if one of them sits around and eats cheese puffs all day (that’s a vegetarian dish, right?). Dana has an image in her mind of what a nonmeat-eating group of people is like, and there isn’t an unhealthy one in the bunch.
And I’m sure my own prejudices slip in when I’m writing these stories. For each character I create, there are dozens of choices I need to make about each one. What kind of car do they drive? What is their favorite beverage? What do they like to do in their spare time?
Many of my answers to these questions are based on pre-conceived notions. For example, I can’t imagine Gordon ever bowling in his spare time. He’s much too uptight, always concentrating on Esther’s farm and keeping it in business. But who says bowlers are a laidback bunch? That’s simply a prejudice on my part, no doubt fed by all those TV shows and movies where blue collar workers love to meet up after work for some beer and bowling.
It’s hard to get away from prejudice. Our brains are programmed to assess any given situation with the information we have access to. Sometimes our decisions and opinions are based on fact. Other times, they’re based on assumptions and misinformation. And that’s where prejudice comes in.