Prejudice: The Root of All Evil
History is full of examples of atrocities resulting from prejudice. Race, gender, religion, class, personal abilities -- all have been used to justify the mistreatment of human beings. From the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide and thousands upon thousands of moments before, after and in between, people have been attempting to subjugate those whose beliefs or appearances don’t mirror their own.
Today, we are uniting to fight the insidious crime of modern-day slavery, and prejudice is once again at the heart of a despicable crime. Prejudice of one type or another is often used as an excuse to view someone as a commodity to be bought and sold; rather than a fellow human being to be respected. Is history doomed to repeat itself, or is there something that we, as freedom fighters, can learn from the horrors of the past?
During the Inquisition, which lasted from the 12th through the 19th centuries, the Catholic Church sanctioned the torture and execution of thousands of Jews, Muslims, and others they felt guilty of the crime of heresy. Galileo was put on trial and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by Inquisitors. The value of a human being was measured solely by his or her perceived religious beliefs.
A multitude of prejudices were involved in the atrocities committed under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II. Approximately 17 million Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities were murdered as Hitler continued his horrifying pursuit of the “perfect race.” People were judged based on how closely they lived up to his arbitrary ideal.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was the result of ethnic hostilities. Members of the Hutu majority government directed the killing of up to 1,000,000 people (70% of the Tutsi population and 30% of the Batwa). The Tutsi-backed Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) eventually gained the upper hand and 2,000,000 Hutu refugees poured into the Congo and other neighboring countries. Judging others based on the culture they were born into rather than their merits as individuals led, yet again, to mass murder and destruction.
So what do these examples tell us? How can we use them to fuel our war on human trafficking? I think the most important takeaway is that prejudice is a pervasive evil, but one that can be defeated. We have at our disposal two methods to combat prejudice in the world: 1) Treat everyone as the unique individual he or she is; and 2) tell stories that will shine a light on the dignity of all individuals.
Traffickers aren’t the only guilty parties when it comes to viewing victims as less than human. Too many times, the rest of the world judges victims of injustice based on his or her circumstances -- if only they had made better choices, if only they were smarter or if only they had more strength of character. Our human nature can allow stereotypes to blur our compassion.
Dressember gives us tools to counter this way of thinking. Each story of individual redemption paints a picture of a vibrant individual. When we, as advocates, share these stories, we are challenging misperceptions and prejudice. It’s no longer so easy to blame the victim when a person gets to know him or her and feel the type of connection these accounts can forge.
I have visited CANDLES, the museum and education center Ms. Kor founded. The mission of this facility is “. . . to prevent prejudice and hatred through education about the Holocaust.” I have also had the honor of hearing her speak about her experience in Auschwitz and what she has learned and hopes to share with the world as a result.
Along with her message of the importance of forgiveness, she wants visitors to learn the dangers of prejudice.
“I call prejudice the cancer of the human soul,” she says. And while she believes prejudice is a part of human nature, she also believes there is hope. She is convinced we can change the world by getting to know one another and looking past our own biases. Actions can spread positivity just as easily as they have spread negativity in the past. “When we treat people with respect and fairness, we can eliminate prejudice. Just like a ripple in the lake, we touch the lives of other people,” she says.
We can end slavery and many, if not all, social injustices if we keep honoring individuality and telling each other’s stories. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, as long as we refuse to give up. Ms. Kor has said, “We can do evil, we can stand by and do nothing or we can do good.” Let’s raise our voices and continue to do good.
About the Author
Jeanette Bouchie is an adult services librarian at the Vigo County Public Library, where she has worked for 18 years. She is also a freelance writer and is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Dressember to increase awareness of human trafficking. She also enjoys reading, tap dancing, traveling, getting dressed up, and attending the occasional comic con.