To help students connect prejudice and social justice to everyday activities and choices.
After students have read the "Making Connections" section of Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (or other readings on environmental justice and the philosophy of interbeing), introduce this activity as follows:
"Just as categorical thinking can lead to prejudice and stereotyping, it can also lead us to view prejudice itself as being categorically distinct from the rest of life. As Martin Luther King, Jr., and others have pointed out, however, prejudice and social justice are deeply intertwined in almost everything we do. Because this principle can sound abstract, let's look at a few concrete examples of how two seemingly unrelated things are actually closely connected."
Next, challenge students to see how prejudice and inequality are connected to various mundane activities such as:
- Wasting energy or consuming unnecessary plastic products [Possible answer based on environmental justice research: petrochemical industries disproportionately harm people of color.]
- Driving to work each day [Possible answers: (1) unnecessary driving and fuel inefficient cars waste petrochemicals; (2) luxury cars maintain social inequities]
- Eating breakfast in the morning [Possible answers: (1) products such as coffee and cocoa often come from poor countries; (2) bacon and eggs inflict unnecessary harm on animals]
Bottom line: To think categorically of wasting energy as a strictly "environmental" issue is to miss the interconnectedness of the problem. From the framework of interbeing, working to protect the environment is also working to protect people of color.
Some students may object to such connections, arguing that if prejudice were so embedded in daily life, they wouldn't be able to get through the day without worrying about how every little thing relates to prejudice. If these reactions surface, here are some points for students to consider:
- Often, it is uncomfortable to relate prejudice and inequality to our own lifestyles, and it cuts against the grain of our natural tendency to think categorically. Yet this discomfort does not make such an analysis wrong.
- A recognition of interconnectedness need not imply a net loss -- it can also be seen as a gain because working on one environmental or social justice issue is ultimately to work on all issues.
- Viewed within this framework, prejudice reduction becomes a natural vehicle for self-improvement rather than a sacrifice or act of charity toward disadvantaged groups.
- The philosophy of interbeing suggests that prejudice and inequality will never be eliminated entirely, but this need not be a problem. A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh is instructive in this regard:
"The problem is whether we are determined to go in the direction of compassion or not. If we are, then can we reduce the suffering to a minimum? If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction." (Being Peace, p. 98)