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How Environments Shape Our Beliefs

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Introduction

“It’s quite shocking really, the gist of it is that 3- and 4-year-olds demonstrate the same level and type of bias as adults” (Burnett).

Prejudice is defined as a preconceived opinion. People can be prejudiced based on race, religion, or something else. Prejudice has been seen in the past in things such as the Holocaust. Anne Frank was someone who felt prejudice during the Holocaust and, unfortunately, did not live long enough to see a world where people have mostly lost their prejudice against the Jews. Prejudice can also be seen with the discrimination of African-Americans. Prejudice is not just seen in the past, though. It is still a current issue our world is facing. This would be something like how Muslims are being treated in China. Prejudice could be one of two things: nature or nurture. Nature would be someone’s inherent character. Nurture would be the environment someone grew up in. Prejudice is nurture because people can lose their biases if they are in the right environment.

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Prejudice During the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, the Jewish people felt prejudice against them. This was because the Nazi tyranny used propaganda to shape the way children thought. These children were led to believe that the Jews were beneath them. This can be seen in the children’s book Der Giftpilz. A page of Der Giftpilz, “The Poisonous Mushroom”, is about a mother and son walking through a forest to gather mushrooms. As the mother and son are walking home they talk about good and poisonous mushrooms and compare them to good and bad people. The mother says that the Jews are poisonous mushrooms and that they are dangerous. The son then asks the mother if all Gentiles know that Jews are poisonous mushrooms and she responds by saying,

Unfortunately not, my child. There are millions of Gentiles who do not yet know the Jews. So we have to enlighten people and warn them against the Jews. Our young people, too, must be warned. Our boys and girls must learn to know the Jew. They must learn that the Jew is the most dangerous poison-mushroom in existence. Just as poisonous mushrooms spring up everywhere, so the Jew is found in every country of the world. Just as poisonous mushrooms often lead to the most dreadful calamity, so the Jew is the cause of misery and distress, illness and death. (Der Giftpilz)

During the Holocaust, parents would read books like these to their children. These propaganda books were also found in schools. Textbooks were used as propaganda. Board games and toys were also used as propaganda. Just about everything was used to make children believe what they were being told was true. There were youth organizations that Nazis used to shape the beliefs of young children. The page published by the Holocaust Encylopedia “Indoctrinating Youth” states, “Youth leaders used tightly controlled group activities and staged propaganda events such as mass rallies full of ritual and spectacle to create the illusion of one national community reaching across class and religious divisions that characterized Germany before 1933” (Indoctrinating Youth). It adds, “In 1936, membership became mandatory for all boys and girls between the ages of ten and seventeen. After-school meetings and weekend camping trips sponsored by the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls trained children to become faithful to the Nazi Party and the future leaders of the National Socialist state” (Indoctrinating Youth). The Nazis did everything they could to make children believe in what they were saying. If these children were not pushed to believe what the Nazis were telling them, they might not have believed in the anti-semitism they were taught. This is because they would have been shown that Jews are not bad people.

Prejudice in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

In Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank writes about the prejudice she feels. She writes about how being stealthy was insufferable and how she just wanted to be treated like anyone else. On April 11, 1944, Frank writes about how she is constantly reminded that she is a Jew. Frank declares,

We’ve been strongly reminded of the fact that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations. We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort with-out complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God. One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews! Who has inflicted this on us? Who has set us apart from all the rest? Who has put us through such suffering? It’s God who has made us the way we are, but it’s also God who will lift us up again. In the eyes of the world, we’re doomed, but if, after all this suffering, there are still Jews left, the Jewish people will be held up as an example. Who knows, maybe our religion will teach the world and all the people in it about goodness, and that’s the reason, the only reason, we have to suffer. We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. And we’ll have to keep on being Jews, but then, we’ll want to be. (Frank)

Even after having to hide and give up the life she had, Frank still had hope that people would forget about their prejudice. She wanted the Jews to start being a part of the communities they lived in and not their own race. On May 22, 1944, Frank writes about how the Jews are seen as monolithic and everyone else gets to be themselves. Frank writes,

When you hear that, you begin to wonder why we’re fighting this long and difficult war. We’re always being told that we’re fighting for freedom, truth and justice! The war isn’t even over, and already there’s dissension and Jews are regarded as lesser beings. Oh, it’s sad, very sad that the old adage has been confirmed for the umpteenth time: ‘What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does reflects on all Jews.’ To be honest, I can’t understand how the Dutch, a nation of good, honest, upright people, can sit in judgment on us the way they do. On us-the most oppressed, unfortunate and pitiable people in all the world. (Frank)

People have lost most of the prejudice they had, but some people still discriminate against Jews. Even though it has gotten better, people have to keep being shown the result of their prejudice. Anne Frank and her diary have helped with showing people that the prejudice they have can lead to horrible tragedies. Because of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, other diaries, and Holocaust survivers talking about their experiences, people can see what prejudice and discrimination leads to and that will create an environment that will make people less biased against others.

Prejudice in History

The oppression of African-Americans was one of the most horrible acts of prejudice in America. They were forced into slavery and had to work horrible jobs in the worst conditions. Even when they were freed from slavery, they still felt prejudice. They still faced segregation and discrimination. The Jim Crow laws in the South were a part of this. The Jim Crow laws led to a gruesome murder without justice. History.com states,

The two men confessed to kidnapping Till but were acquitted of murder charges by an all–white, all–male jury after barely an hour of deliberations. Never brought to justice, Bryant and Milam later shared vivid details of how they killed Till with a journalist for Look magazine, which published their confessions under the headline “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.” (Black History Milestones: Timeline)

The mother of Emmett Till held an open casket funeral for him to show the public what happened to her son and how the discrimination and prejudice in the South had to end. It worked because people were outraged over the vile acts that were committed. Emmett Till’s death led to the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. History.com states,

On November 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision declaring the bus company’s segregation seating policy unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. King, called off the boycott on December 20, and Rosa Parks—known as the “mother of the civil rights movement”—would be one of the first to ride the newly desegregated buses. (Black History Milestones: Timeline)

This was another step towards the end of segregation. There were more protests and they led to more desegregation and less discrimination. Now, there is less discrimination against African-Americans and they have more opportunities than they have ever had before. People have seen that African-Americans are people and they deserve the same rights that everyone else has.

Current Prejudice

Prejudice didn’t just happen in the past. To this day people still feel prejudice against them. An example of present-day prejudice would be how the Muslims are being treated in China. The Chinese are trying to use the idea that Muslim people are susceptible to becoming terrorists to try and make people believe in what they are doing. They also said that the people who are there are there voluntarily and that they were releasing people. They didn’t have any proof that people were there voluntarily and no one saw anyone being released. The propaganda was somewhat working for them until, when people started looking further into it, they started accusing people of ridiculous things. For example, the New York Times states, “The Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, published an interview with a regional government spokesman who said that two prominent foreign experts on Xinjiang, Adrian Zenz and Darren Byler, were cooperating with ‘anti-China forces in the U.S. to smear China’s Xinjiang policies” (Buckley). They tried to use fear as their propaganda tool and showed videos of extremist attacks. The New York Times also states, “Mr. Byler said the videos could help deflect criticism of the detentions by playing on exaggerated fears that Uighurs are susceptible to becoming terrorists” (Buckley). They used those videos as propaganda to try and show that that is what Muslims could become when those were only the outliers. The camps that the Muslims are forced to have appalling conditions. The New York Times states, “Former camp detainees who have left China have described numbing, harsh and even brutal treatment inside the facilities. Detainees are subject to constant indoctrination that warns them to renounce religious fervor and support the Communist Party. They are forced to study Chinese, memorize laws, practice marching and learn skills for factory work” (Buckley). The conditions the Muslims are forced to endure are almost like Nazi work camps. History has almost had a chance to repeat itself because people believed in the propaganda they were being told. They believed that the Muslims in the camps were there voluntarily because they didn’t have any evidence to prove that they were being held against their will. The Chinese government played on the fears of their people to make them believe what they wanted them to. Now that people have seen what is happening, this might help them lose their prejudice and help the people in need.

Conclusion

Overall, prejudice has happened in the past, present, and will probably still be around in the future. Just because humanity has learned from situations like the Holocaust and slavery, that doesn’t mean that their prejudice is completely gone. Prejudice can still be seen all around the world. People can’t completely rid the world of prejudice, but they can do their best to make sure that they realize when they are being prejudiced and try to change. People should try to be more compassionate towards one another and make sure that they learn from their past mistakes. Humanity’s indifference could lead to prejudices being brought back and people having to suffer because of it.

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