Going Postal: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I wrote this paper my last semester in Psychology. I thought it might be of benefit to anyone who reads it. Enjoy :)

Prejudice and discrimination are very human traits. Both work hand-in-hand with differentiating things from one another. In all of our uniqueness, it is easier for our human minds to group people and things together in order to make sense of the world that we live in. Piaget’s theory suggested that, “dividing the world into meaningful categories is vital to thinking about objects or concepts and their relationships” (Papalia, 158). Prejudice is a mere assessment of a certain group of people. Discrimination is the behavior taken towards these different groups of people. Both can be positive and modes for survival, as many of our mechanisms are. According to Papalia and associates, “infants may be born with a rudimentary ability to discern certain limited categories (such as snakes and spiders) that are dangerous to humans” (Papalia, 158). Both prejudice and discrimination taken to an extreme can be very dangerous.

Individuals also faction themselves within groups, the social identity theory states that in order to gain self-worth and a sense of pride, people separate themselves into groups. “Social identity theory suggests that people are ethnocentric, viewing the world from their own perspective and judging others in terms of their group membership” (Feldman, 605). When the concept of “us” vs. “them” sets in however, disconcerting things can start happening. Once the marginalized group begins to be degraded and their value lessened as constructive individuals within society, prejudice and racism and all sorts of human wrong are brought up out of the woodwork. The moment this begins, the skills of prejudice and discrimination are no longer positive; they become negative and the ugliest forms of human nature are exposed. Prejudice and discrimination can take on almost animalistic tendencies, specifically rearing its head at a group of individuals and drawing conclusions on their superficial appearance and not on single individuals.

I am an American-Muslim woman, who covers her hair in public and trys to adhere to the Islamic religious code. In July of 2008, I walked into a PostNet Store to send a package to my family in North Carolina. It was a sunny day and I was in a great mood. Little did I know that once I would step foot in this store, I would come out completely shaken. Both my daughter (3 years old) and my son (4 months old) were with me. I waited in line to send my package and I did not really notice that the woman behind the counter was not in the best mood. I needed the typical packing bubbles for my mail and everything was ready to go. The lady then looked at me and asked me to leave. I did not know what was going on, both my children were in the double stroller, quiet and peaceful. I wanted to send my package and she started to bellow “GET OUT OF HERE!” I was completely blown away by her reaction, so I stood there dumbfounded. My daughter looked up at me and was at the brink of tears. I asked if I had done anything to offend her and she told me that she reserved the right not to do business with me. This did not settle well with me of course and I asked for her manager, upon telling me her manager was not available, she again tried to kick me out of the store. I asked for her manager’s name and she refused to give it to me. I turned to leave, and there was an Indian man standing behind me. Her first response to him was “ARE YOU WITH HER?!” He replied, “No I just want to send the CD”. I asked if she jumped to that conclusion because of the color or his skin. She refused to answer.

I told my friends about this incident and they told me that we should go back and try to talk to the manager. I was not sure if she was just having a bad day or if she was always that way with people that looked different or had other ideologies then her. As a baseline I had a Muslim friend (that wears the hair covering – a pharmacist) and my Christian friend (a professor at St. Edwards University) enter the store separately. My Christian friend entered first and she reported that the lady was a little feisty but not that rude. When my Muslim friend and I entered the store, I approached her respectfully (this time without the children) and I told her that I did not mean to upset her the last time I walked in (even though I really had no idea what made her so mad). She again told me to leave her store. My pharmacist friend asked for the manager’s name because if she was not the manager she was not allowed to kick me out of the store. She again refused. She did not know that we had her recorded.

I wrote a formal letter to PostNet, attached the audio file and requested that she get diversity training. I was part of an organization that trains people in understanding diversity – finding “peace through knowledge”. She seemed to have been completely surrounded by the same homogenous group of people, creating a bubble around herself, not allowing anyone with different color skin or religion in her sphere. This aspect of the conflict greatly demonstrated the social identity theory and ethnocentricity that this woman lived in. The company promptly fired her. I was not happy the outcome because now her animosity towards Muslims and different people in general would be even stronger. I deeply believe that diversity training would have done her and the community a lot more good. People can be very pleasant and the commonalities can be endless once a relationship is formed.

Arrogance and prejudice of all forms have taken place throughout time and place. Beginning in Heaven, when Iblees (Satan) would not bow down to Adam because Adam was made of mud and Iblees was made of fire (according to Islamic beliefs), humanity has undergone a long and bloody history of conceit, fear and hatred (Quran, 38:76). The only way to fight this roller coaster of racism, prejudice and discrimination is through knowledge. Hating people is a lot easier than finding reasons to like them. Humanity will never see through the veil of our differences if knowledge and compassion are not shared. There are beautiful things in people; unfortunately the ugly ones leave the deepest marks. In the words of Charlotte Bronte, “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stone” (http://thinkexist.com/quotations/prejudice/2.html).

Works Sited

Feldman, Robert. Understanding Psychology-Ninth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.

Papalia, Diane E., Sally Wendkos Olds, and Ruth Duskin Feldman. Human Development-Eleventh Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.

The Holy Quran-with English Translation-Third Edition. New Delhi, India: Millat Book Centre, 1996. Print.

Charlotte Bronte quote. http://thinkexist.com/quotations/prejudice/2.html.

For intensive purposes, the company apologized and was very gracious in dealing with the situation. I was merely remarking on one individual's actions and in no way reflecting the ethics of this company in particular.


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