The Nature of Prejudice

VTR: 06/16/1956
GUESTS: Gregory Zilboorg, Ted Poston, Ivan Illynch

HEFFNER: Last week on “The Open Mind” we discussed “Anti Semitism,” one particular form of prejudice. Today we hope to look at the larger picture — that is prejudice in general — at its extent, at some of its many different forms and, of course, most important of all, at its cause. Now even if we should, for a moment, put aside all ethical, spiritual and religious consideration, prejudice, our blanket pre-judgment against a people, a religion, a nationality, would still remain a social problem of enormous proportion for so frequently in times of social tension our pre-judgment, our unthinking automatic stereotypes of groups and individuals lead to hate and violence. The Anti-Defamation League, in cooperation with Columbia University, has made a film that we think makes this point very well. Its subject is rumor and note how dangerous pre-judgment can be in a highly emotional situation.

NARRATOR: (FILM) Rumor. Rumors that destroy. Who starts rumors? How do they begin? Well, let’s look at one. One summer day in Detroit some years ago there was a traffic jam on a bridge. It had been a hot day, tempers were frayed. Then in the middle of the bridge there was an argument — something about a locked bumper. If you had been sitting in the car behind, it might have looked like this to you. Now suppose from the car back of you a man called out “Hey, bud, what’s going on?” What would you
answer? Here’s what you’re seeing. What would you say? What one man did tell another somewhere along the line was “It’s an argument between a white man and a Negro. Something about the white man’s wife.” This report moved down the line of cars.

Gradually it took on changes. Somewhere along the line the rumor had it the Negro was armed with a knife. A little further on it was said the Negro had attacked the woman. And by the time the rumor reached one residential area it was said there was a wave of attacks by Negroes. Now let’s go back a minute. If you had been sitting in a car on the other side of the locked bumper, the incident might have looked like this. If you had seen this, what word would you have passed down the line? How would you have described it? Here’s what one man said: “There’s an argument between a white man and a Negro, something about the Negro’s baby.”

And this report traveled down the line, gaining momentum, adding details. At one point the story ran this way: a white man had thrown a Negro child off the bridge and there was a fight. A bit further a new detail entered the story – the police. It was said the police were siding with the white man. By the time the rumor reached the Negro section near the end of the bridge it told of a reign of terror on the Negro population.

Thus, in the heat of a summer day two different rumors born of one incident did their work of confusion and assumption. Rumor. Race riots. 34 dead. Detroit, June 22nd, 1943. Rumor it was because of initial prejudice, the pre-judgement of white against Negro, and of Negro against white. It was because of the stereotypes so deeply embedded in the minds of those Americans in Detroit, June 1943 that rumor so quickly took hold and led to such great violence and destruction. But now let me turn to our guests to examine more closely the nature of prejudice itself.

The guests who are joining me today on this discussion are Father Ivan Illych, the Vice Rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico; also Mr. Ted Poston, a reporter for the New York Post, who has recently written a series of articles on prejudice in Montgomery, Alabama; and our third guest is Dr. Gregory Zilboorg, a psychiatrist from New York City. Now, gentlemen, I wonder if I can just begin the discussion by asking what about the nature of prejudice? What is your reaction?…Dr. Zilboorg,
you’re the psychiatrist here — maybe I should ask you what the cause of prejudice is.

DR. ZILBOORG: Exactly what we talked about we shouldn’t talk about. (LAUGHTER)

HEFFNER: I thought I would put you on the spot.

DR. ZILBOORG: Well, what we just saw on the screen perhaps is the best illustration of how we sometimes take certain aspects of things for the cause — rumor, for instance, being the cause of something. You aptly pointed out that because of the initial prejudice rumors work in a certain destructive manner. Something is destructive. The nature of prejudice is the hostility of people which, in various groups at various times, turns against different other groups. A race, a class group, an economic group, a sexual group, any types of groups. It’s a form of hostility which is deeply ingrained in men. It’s not necessarily a hostility which is identified with what we call insanity, but it’s pretty unreasonable.

HEFFNER: Do you think prejudice is neurosis in one disguise or another.

DR.ZILBOORG: No. I am not prejudiced in favor of my own psychiatric church tower. Not everything is neurosis. I don’t think it’s very attractive to scratch one’s nose often and so many people do, but it isn’t necessarily neurosis. Maybe just plain unattractive.

I think that prejudices are the pathways by means of which the average man preserves, unfortunately, an attitude of self-righteousness by pointing a finger at other people, the Baptists against the Jews, the whites against the Negroes, white Americans against the Puerto Ricans, the middle class against the alleged Communists – it’s always connected with hate, with hostility.

HEFFNER: Do you gentlemen, in your practical dealings with the problem, find that to be true?

POSTON: Well, I have lived so closely to the problem in these last few months that I find an abstract discussion of it a little difficult. But it has been my impression … it had been my impression before I talked with Dr. Zilboorg, before this, that ignorance has a lot to do with prejudice, that not knowing people, being isolated from them — of course you do, as you say, attribute to them certain characteristics that you wouldn’t like to have in yourself. But I had felt that not being able to know people, by not being able to know them enough to know that they’re quite similar to you, has led many groups to adopt prejudices against others.

HEFFNER: Well, you’ve just come back from Alabama. Do you feel that this is true, is this your……

POSTON: I found it quite true. I found in Montgomery, where I spent about a month, I found very intelligent people there, white, who were willing to accept me and to discuss things with me as an individual, if not as an equal.

But they just couldn’t see the Negroes in their own communities. They had a complete picture about them — they saw them as one big solid black mass. I remember one man telling me “Well, Ted, you are probably one of a couple of hundred Negroes of New York who has advanced to the point that you can move into the mainstream of American life.” Now, just an hour before I’d run into this man – he was a publisher – I’d been talking to a little Negro professor at the Negro college there who had quite a problem. His problem was whether he would accept an associate professorship at one of two California colleges where there were no Negroes. This young scientist that I was talking to was superior to the two of us, but merely because he was from Montgomery, because he taught at the Negro school there, this white man that I was speaking to just didn’t recognize his existence.

FATHER ILLYCH: I just wonder — although you say that prejudice is probably caused very much by ignorance you still agree that there must be something beyond or above ignorance which makes these people, these white people in Montgomery, be prejudiced against the Negroes, because it is impossible to imagine that all these rather intelligent white people do not know that every single Negro person in Montgomery is a personality in his own right. Just ignorance couldn’t explain that people consider a mass …

POSTON: Well, it’s a sort of ignorance and a blindness, Father. They refuse to see these things. They refuse to. They are of course intelligent and they must know that such people exist, but they just refuse to recognize their existence.

DR. ZILBOORG: Why don’t you agree with me now, Ted Poston, if they refuse to agree and refuse to see and refuse to open their eyes despite their intelligence, that there is something in them that refuses. And that thing that it refuses is not their lack of ignorance, but an unwillingness to love or to appreciate or to respect the other guy. Yet you find, not only in Montgomery Alabama, but you will find also in certain social stratas — in New York if you speak, for instance, with a certain accent — I’m not speaking of myself, I’m prejudiced in favor of my accent — but if you speak with a certain accent which is not what is called “cultivated,” you don’t belong to the original four -, five-or seven-hundred, or two-hundred. There are class prejudices. This is the part of our animal still living in us, in spite of the fact that we are cultivated people, you, for instance, say ignorance — you reflect the spirit of our modern age. It overestimates the intellect, thinking that if you KNOW something, knowledge itself will do it better.

But what you mean by KNOWING, if I may say, that by knowing means knowing the person who you’re with, getting accustomed to him, being able to feel the same, know his needs, appreciate that he is human, and stop treating him as a stray dog who came out from another courtyard. But this is not knowledge. This is diminishing the aggression in favor of love.

HEFFNER: Diminishing the hostility that you were talking about…

DR. ZILBOORG: Aggression or hostility in favor of love. This is not deep. Its deep enough in men, but that is human.

HEFFNER: Do you mean, then, this is the nature of man, the innate hostility?

DR.ZILBOORG: The innate hostility which man usually tries to shed by means of wearing a mask of self-righteousness and respectability, by saying — I don’t like this man because of so-and-so and so-and-so — instead of saying that I just like to dislike.

FATHER ILLYCH: Now, you would say, therefore, Gregory, that this prejudice, that which causes the root of prejudice, is something very normal in every human being,. as I would say, after original sin, of every human being that is born today, and that this prejudice can be overcome only by a person admitting what I’ve accused in that man is really something which I have myself, and I hate to see it ourtide myself, in a group, because I have it myself.

DR. ZILBOORG: Exactly.

FATHER ILLYCH: And that therefore the only way of overcoming that prejudice is — beyond the humility of admitting that..

DR. ZILBOORG: Well, I then would have to go along with Ted Poston, in order to overcome we must be together so that despite ourselves we will learn that other people are like ourselves.

HEFFNER: But don’t we come back, then, to this question of ignorance. If the nature of man is to be hostile towards certain groups, one group or another group, you then seem to conclude what Mr. Poston concludes, that knowing other peoples will prevent -us from expressing our prejudice against them, or towards them.

DR. ZILBOORG: Knowing them emotionally, not knowing them intellectually. I give you an example. There was a headwaiter in a Southern metropolis, a full-blooded Negro, whose great specialty was to recite the farewell address of General Lee. And my friend, a psychiatrist, a very, very typical Southern gentleman, always loved this waiter, George. And in a crowd of white people you would always see him shaking hands with George, putting his arms around him. He loved George. And George would come to his house. But, any other Negro was not George. And any other Negro was just a Negro.

POSTON: Well, there’s another thing, too. Its not only knowing but I think there’s a reluctance to give up certain stereotypes because it will disturb certain privileges that they have as a result of these
prejudices.

I mean to recognize even the humanity of Negroes in some of those sections means that you’ve g t to give them certain things as human beings, and as long as you can just see them in the mass as a stereotype — I think one of the most frightening things to the white people of Montgomery has been having to give up this idea that all Negroes are children. Suddenly these people that they’d thought of as children have set up a transportation system that’s far more efficient than any that the city had ever run (laughter), they are finding themselves, they are freer, they are amused, they are laughing. I think it frightens the whites darn near to death, almost. Because suddenly this child has become an adult and they don’t know what this adult’s going to do next.

FATHER ILLYCH: Well, it is the same difficulty here with our Puerto Ricans in New York. You generally hear that the reason why the Welfare Department expenditures in New York are skyrocketing is the entrance of the Puerto Ricans, that all the Puerto Ricans who come to New York right away go on Welfare. Now, if you look through the Welfare statistics for 1955 you’ll find’that the average among the Puerto Ricans, that, is, the people who are on Welfare, is’more or less the same of that of any other group — only that the Puerto Ricans, mostly are on temporary or supplementary welfare — that is, they make salaries which are too small and therefore need a supplement from the City Welfare Department.

FATHER ILLYCH: And everybody in New York says — oh, the reason why we have to pay so much taxes is because the Puerto Ricans are here. They’re lazy.

HEFFNER: Well, you say — you bring up this point and I am very interested that since our last program on anti-Semitism a number of viewers have written us to remind us that prejudice isn’t something that we find outside of this great metropolitan area, but we find it against the Puerto Ricans, we find it against Negroes, we find it against Jews, we find the hates, the hostilities, that you referred to, but what function would you say the hate, the hostility, plays or performs for those of us in New York who are prejudiced against Puerto Ricans? Why do we develop this stereotype and stick to it despite the facts?

FATHER ILLYCH: I read a very interesting article a few weeks ago where a man had taken newspaper clippings which were a hundred years old and had just deleted the names of the people and put in Spanish names and everybody would have been thinkong that he was reading the Post (LAUGHTER) or for that matter the Daily News, And at the end of the article he said these things were written about the immigrants at that time who had owned names like O’Mahoney, or some Jewish name. It seems that in New York there is the need to attribute to somebody those things which we are very proud of having overcome ourselves, would you say that?

DR.ZILBOORG: Don’t forget that a newcomer, and it had been true that Abraham Lincoln was quoted in the New York newspapers at the time to illustrated as a gorilla. The issue is this: everyone uses his aggressiveness and his hostility in order to protect his own position. If only he was willing to give up his hostility and take in others to share with him his position, that is where your knowledge comes in – share with him his position, then, of course, the prejudice will disappear and out hostility — or, there are so many nice ways of doing it — like atomic bombs and war and revolutions. (LAUGHTER) Humanity has invented so many other ways, why do it to the poor minorities when the majorities could suffer from it just as well?

FATHER ILLYCH: You said something before which seemed to me extremely interesting and that was that the prejudice, the things of which a group accuses other groups, are always the same — that is, that the accusations, of anti-Semitism and the accusations of those who are against Puerto Ricans and against labor and against the rich against religious groups, they are always the same. Do you think you could boil them down?

DR,ZILBOORG: Well, I tried to boil it down once in an article of mine, but this was too deep, as Ted Poston would say, and I can’t write any differently because my Russian background made me so abstract, because when I come to the concrete I have to run.

POSTON: Well, I have to live with the concrete every day.

DR,ZILBOORG: Well, that’s why you keep up writing. I’m not afraid of the concrete at all, but I it and I can think abstractly.

FATHER. ILLYCH: Because I don’t now how to fit into this an experience I had in a place here in New York City. I looked over the marriage records in Church and I found in that particular place that there was quite a bit of intermarriage between Puerto Ricans and mostly Irish and a few Germans, Russian Catholics, And I found out, to my great amazement, I didn’t know how to explain the strong antipathy against Puerto Ricans, that out of seven marriages, at the maximum in 2 marriages an Irish girl had married a Puerto Rican boy; in every five marriages, on the average, an Irish boy had married a Puerto Rican girl and it seemed to me that one of the reasons why there was certain amount of hostility in that particular place against the Puerto Ricans was because the Irish girls just were left out.

DR.ZILBOORG: That is possible. I don’t know. That in the 18401s, for instance, we had prejudice against the Catholics greater than the prejudice against the Negroes in Philadelphia, for instance, their anti-Catholic riot at that time, and the Catholics were a small minority at that time and the hostility of the
City of Brotherly Love was fantastic and they still considered themselves the City of Brotherly Love.

POSTON: And of course coming back to that question of intermarriage, I was very interested a few years ago to see a group of white Southern Churchwomen who took the leadership in combatting legend, as they pointed out, that this whole thing was based on a myth, that not only well, they were not being molested by Negro men, but as it turned out their husbands were going out molesting Negro women so much that they weren’t being molested by anybody, SO they took the leadership and (LAUGHS) …

HEFFNER:Let me turn our conversation back to the point where we began in this question of nature or cause. You seem to feel that prejudice is in the nature of man. How do we treat it?

DR.ZILBOORG: Hostility is in the nature of man.

HEFFNER: Hostility, which takes the form of prejudice.

DR.ZILBOORG: Our social adjustment is such that we use our hostility in the form of prejudice against various groups and minorities. To cure us from this would require a constant rapprochement between the
minorities, constantly inter-mixing them. I would be in favor of an endless, endless propaganda period in which the Puerto Ricans will sit on the dais at the Waldorf-Astoria and the chairmen of the board of all the big corporations in the United States would be in the audience.

HEFFNER: Well, are we doing anything in that….

POSTON: Father didn’t I hear you say something earlier about a sort of Puerto Rican St. Patrick’s Day you were working on, along this same line?

FATHER ILLYCH: Yes, I told you that I didn’t get to bed until 3 o!clock this morning because of it That’s right. It will happen next Saturday, on the 23rd of June at 10 o’clock in the morning, up in ordham University – a big Spanish fiesta, of course, it must be like something that is going on in Puerto Rico, starting off at 10 o’clock with Mass, and after Mass, Confession, and then afterward a real barbecue in the open in the green in Fordham, with singing, Puerto Ricans singing in Puerto Rican costumes, and we hope that not only Puerto Ricans, but many, many non-Puerto Ricans will come up there, as Gregory just said, and get acquainted with these people, who are just as human, just as lovable, as anybody else, and make some personal friendships, even.

POSTON: That sounds intriguing. I might try to come up there.

HEFFNER: But let me just throw this question out: what then happens to the hostility that is in the nature of man, after we become familiar with other groups?

DR. ZILBOORG: It goes to other channels, You might, for instance, find out that you will write perhaps a play that describes hostility, or you become interested in detective stories, or you will develop greater interest in boxing and regret more the fact that you don’t see as many knockouts as you used to

HEFFNER: Or that you become a Giant fan, you mean.

DR.ZIEBOORG: Yes, or you become a Giant fan. In other words, that hostility will take care of itself. And the cycle is common – hostility finds a way out, and a good way out, provided this outlet is seasoned with understanding and love. I will not refer to what we call knowledge. I donq mean to be contemptuous, but I dislike our modernism of worshipping the intellect in a grand manner that overlooks the heart,

HEFFNER: No. I asked the question because it seemed to me that your approach was essentially a rather pessimistic one and I still wonder whether..

DR, ZILBOORG: No, it’s not pessimistic at all, My approach is merely pessimistic, as far as the immediate future is concerned of turning the world over to psychiatrists. I am a psychiatrist and I know that we don’t deserve to have the world turned over to us to cure the world of its ills.

ANNOUNCER: (VOICE OVER AS DISCUSSION FADES OUT) You have been watching “The Open Mind.” Next week our subject will be: “Atomic Radiation and the Future of the Human Race,”

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