A guide to everyday psychology


Old White Men

We are all prejudiced – even those of us who think we are less prejudiced than others. This is because the psychological processes that cause our prejudices are innate and universal (especially confirmation bias and stereotyping). [see related articles]

So it always irritates me when I see people on telly applying their own prejudices to sneer at the prejudices of others.

I came across an interesting example to illustrate this point a few days ago. It was a TV interview with Shirley Manson, lead singer of the rock band Garbage. Identifying a few things she thought were wrong with the world, she included “old, white men”. I think what she was suggesting is that old white men think in fixed and unimaginative ways. The world would be better off it was run by younger, ethnically diverse people who had not been rendered unimaginative by their age, maleness and whiteness.

As an old white man, I freely acknowledge my prejudices. But I’m pretty sure I don’t have any extra prejudices because I am an old white man – as Shirley seems to think. My prejudices are produced by psychological processes that exist in all of us. Those processes were present the day I was born – just as they were present in Shirley.

Simplistic stereotypes about ‘old white men’ (or even middle-aged female rock singers) are a product of prejudice rather than insight. If we want to understand other people’s prejudices, we have to start by recognising and understanding our own.

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