This morning I was preparing to facilitate a discussion with first-year medical students in a course on ethics. The specific topic is the effect of race in the prescription of medication for pain and for invasive cardiovascular procedures. The discussions are based on case studies in peer-reviewed journals. The point in question is how even subtle prejudices can undermine the decisions we make. These student doctors are discussing within their ranks how we can all become more perfect instruments when self awareness is present
Most of us can identify overt prejudice in situations such as in Charlottesville over the weekend. Racial tension that presents as violence gets our attention and we are quick to condemn it. We may feel that we, ourselves, have no prejudice within us. But do the seeds of prejudice exist in us from earliest times when our survival might depend on identifying who was or was not in our tribe? Fear springs from coming face to face with that which is different from ourselves. Without time to experience and develop understanding, our affective response rules and our cognitive response does not always catch up in time to prevail.
Prejudice may arise from assumptions or incorrect information. It may arise from learned responses and attitudes we have “caught” along the way. Prejudice may be as subtle as biased favoritism for our own kind.
Tension may be the first sign within ourselves that unknown fears are on board that we should pay attention to and try to understand and evaluate. Prejudice is not only a race issue, but also involves gender, age, socioeconomic, religious, and sexual identification. Awareness of this powerful influence can be a first step to a lessening of tensions and can move us beyond tolerance to a celebration of diversity and love.