Prejudice Reduction Workshops in Ireland
by John Lampen
Summary written by: Quinn Doody, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Prejudice Reduction Workshops in Ireland," Conciliation Quarterly, 9:2, 4, 9-10.
Prejudice is created by many factors, some of which cause more extensive and deep-rooted damage than others. Often, prejudice is easily erased unless originally prompted by a traumatic experience. However, when cultural attitudes are strengthened by real experiences, prejudice is much more difficult to treat. Some factors that strengthen prejudice are fear, guilt, shame, politeness, tolerance, and moralizing. This article discusses workshops designed to help people learn to deal with discrimination when they experience it, and how to prevent themselves from participating in prejudice against other groups of people.
These workshops are based on a Freudian theory, in which prejudice has an "aim" and an "object." The object of prejudice is people identified as inferior in one's own culture, while "the aim of prejudicial behavior and attitudes is to discharge feelings of rage, which stem from internalized experiences of hurt" (4). In other words, we discriminate against others because we ourselves feel powerless and inadequate.
The steps taken by the Mennonite Central Committee in their workshops on prejudice reduction concentrate first on asking participants to focus on how they feel about themselves and about other groups. Next, people are divided into pairs and asked to react spontaneously to a word repeatedly thrown at them by their partner (i.e., one person repeats the word Catholic, unemployed, Protestant, etc., and the other person verbally responds without thinking). This exercise is then brought back to the large group and discussed in the context of self censorship, honesty and feelings evoked by hearing prejudicial statements about others, and more specifically about one's own cultural group. The next step is the formation of small groups (caucuses) based on similar cultural identity. The people in each group discuss similar life experiences, including hurt felt by prejudice and discrimination. Finally, the caucuses again come together in a large group and share their life experiences, particularly the hurt felt by prejudice.
The process described above helps people to shed their defensiveness, to understand that everyone has both experienced and participated in prejudice, and to reflect on any hurtful prejudice-related experiences. It also allows people to discuss personal experiences and hear the life experiences of people from culturally different backgrounds without presupposed attitudes. After these steps, if they have participated with open minds, people are ready to turn inward and deal with their own feelings of powerlessness.
After the initial steps listed above, the Mennonite workshop uses three specific exercises to attempt to deal with personal feelings of powerlessness and reduce prejudice after the above initial steps: 1. Volunteers are asked to talk about prejudice directed at them, a time when they interrupted an act of prejudice (at which time they are praised for their action), and a time when they did not interrupt an act of prejudice; 2. Each caucus brainstorms and lists negative statements that they never want to hear again in reference to themselves, then the larger group chooses several of these statements and learns how to "challenge the statement[s] without leaving the speaker humiliated;" and 3. The groups brainstorm ways of reducing prejudicial behavior within their own organization(s).