Tweet of the Day: Character Trait Entry: Prejudiced
As character traits go (and I suggest you visit the link for a great list of character traits), prejudice is a very interesting character trait, in as much as every character is prejudiced/biased in some way.
Why is that?
Because all human beings are prejudiced/biased.
You’re probably shaking your head right now but it is true. Prejudice comes from that nether region where common sense and near instinctual reasoning come from. A melting pot of personal, second hand and communal experience. It is pervasive because it is useful. At least common sense is, prejudice, not so much.
Prejudices come in three broad categories:
- Overt or Blatant Prejudice
- Patronizing Prejudice
- Insidious Prejudice
The first category is easy to identify. It is he of the racist slur, bigoted comment, who usually uses outdated terms to refer to “those people”. A perfect candidate for the Complete Monster. Often given a Freudian or ideological excuse for his behavior, if at all. Often a bully who delights in abusing others physically and psychologically. His prejudices are so ingrained that he resists redemption.
The second category is the well meaning bigot. A contradiction in terms, yet far too common. Often a child of a privileged class, the character good intentions are warped by limited exposure to others of different social status. Thus they have a patronizing attitude toward others outside their circle. They are quick to show remorse or compassion for others which tends to serve as a means of demolishing their prejudices. They will be shocked to hear that their attitude is not exactly welcomed by others, regardless of intentions.
The third category is the most difficult to show in a character because it is the most pervasive form of prejudice. Hence the term “insidious”. Most often it is shown in the characters choices or behavior rather than vocabulary. A nervous glance back if a minority walks behind them on the street late a night. Choosing to visit certain websites/forums filled with like minded people. If given a choice between faces will choose certain characteristics as “trustworthy” without any knowledge of the stories behind those faces. It is also insidious in the sense that because it is so difficult to detect, many characters will turn defensive if said prejudices are pointed out to them.
So even the most “open minded” character will fall into one (or more) of these categories. And events in a story can also reinforce or create new prejudices because prejudices don’t occur in a vacuum. In fact,the tendency is to see prejudices survive in the face of overwhelming evidence. To quote from the Confirmation Bias wiki:
The biases appear in particular for emotionally significant issues and for established beliefs. For example, in reading about gun control, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and/or recall have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a stronger weighting for data encountered early in an arbitrary series) and illusory correlation (in which people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).
But while many prejudices are exaggerations (as generalizations), few if any are out-right lies at least when it comes to individual behavior. And at times groups will embrace these prejudice and perpetuate them as part of the group’s identity.
So when creating a character ask yourself, what is the characters prejudices and why does she has them?
I’ll leave you with this example that is oh so very close to home: