Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide
Trek To Learn to See with the Other's Eyes
By James Waller, Lindaman Chair and professor
of psychology, Whitworth College
Excerpted, in part, from Prejudice Across America (Jackson,
MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000).
We live in a time of the most dramatic change in
the racial background and cultural orientation of our
population that we have experienced in our history.
The changing face of America is a reality. The issue
is not if or when the face of American will change.
That change is a given and it is happening now. Rather,
the issue is how we will respond to the changing face
How do we embrace diversity in the midst of learning
to live as a community? As a college teacher in a field
(social psychology) that directly engages this crucial
social challenge, I have the obligation to assist my
students, most of whom come from white, middle-class
backgrounds, to see with the other's eyes. How
could I, even for a short time, immerse students in
a learning experience that would compel them to see
with the other's eyes?
In the fall of 1995, I began to plan a month-long cross-country
study tour, "Prejudice Across America,"
focusing on the history of prejudice and discrimination
in America. Study tours are, obviously, nothing new
in higher education. A tour on this specific topic,
however, that would run literally from coast to coast,
was unique. It would be an extraordinary opportunity
to move students from the sheltered environment of higher
education and to engage them, however temporarily, in
the experiences of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities
in America. I hoped that they would be drawn closer
to the daily realities faced by victims of hatred and
would more fully realize the persistence of prejudice
In January 1996, sixteen students and I met in San Francisco
and traveled by rail to Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago,
Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. At
each stop along the way, we heard first-hand from members
of various minority groups regarding their history,
culture, celebrations, and personal experiences as victims
of prejudice and discrimination. I lectured very little
on the tour. The direct testimonies of the people with
whom we interacted were the key texts of the course.
The students, rapt with attention, finally were able
to augment their "classroom" understanding
with the authentic face-to-face legacy of prejudice
and discrimination. They saw that while the face of
hatred may change from generation to generation, the
inheritance remains the same--forbidden opportunities,
unfulfilled dreams, inner guilt, tension and fear, societal
strife, and diminished productivity. Yes, these encounters
only gave us a gauzy approximation. However, they did
move us closer to seeing with the other's eyes
than anything else I had ever done, or seen done, in
The study tour, repeated (with modifications) biennially
is a month-long trip that basks in the vitality of eight
great American cities--their history, identity,
food, unique challenges, and accomplishments. It also,
though, is a journey. A journey to confront issues of
race in America. A journey to face our stereotypical
thoughts, prejudicial attitudes, and discriminatory
behaviors. A journey of introspection and self-discovery
in the urban reality of an America where diversity is
not simply a buzzword; it is a way of life.
All of the examinations and assignments for the tour
are frontloaded into a fall preparation course. Students
not only are better prepared for the trip but also are
then able to focus on the human experiences of the journey.
They can speak with people in the here-and-now rather
than passively recording events, quotes, and perspectives
from museum placards. Following the tour, the only remaining
requirement is the submission of a typewritten copy
of their daily journal from the tour.
For the fall preparation course, we meet one hour per
week and, consistent with college policy, students receive
one academic credit. For the tour itself, they receive
three academic credits (equivalent to a standard, non-laboratory
semester-length course that meets three hours per week).
I warn them ahead of time that the workload in no way
corresponds to the academic credits received.
The fall preparation course typically includes four
primary readings. The main text, serving as the common
thread around which the course is woven is Ronald Takaki's
(1993) A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural
America. Since much of the tour focuses on the Civil
Rights Movement, students also read Harvard Sitkoff's
(1993) The Struggle for Black Equality: 1954-1992. The
tour also focuses on one specific religious prejudice--anti-Semitism.
So, in anticipation of our visits to the Wiesenthal
Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum in D. C., the students read Elie Wiesel's
(1960) Night. Finally, the students read my book, Face
to Face: The Changing State of Racism Across America
(1998). In addition to the background information students
pick up on the psychology of racism, having them read
the book provides a starting point from which, if I
manage it well, some fruitful discussion can emerge.
Developing Needed Skills
In addition to the four required texts, students keep
up with a potpourri of print or electronic articles
I forward and several out-of-class film assignments.
I also require students to conduct background research
on each of the eight cities on the itinerary. This research
includes finding one novel or film that would be a good
introduction to the city, two "must do"
things in the city (other than those on our itinerary),
one unique place to eat (unique as in "reflective
of area cuisine" not as in "Hard Rock Café"),
one relevant Web site, and a brief synopsis of the typical
January weather for the city. Finally, students are
required to complete two out-of-class essay examinations
drawing from course notes and readings.
The fall preparation course unfolds around four objectives.
The first objective is building human relations skills.
I encourage the students to reclaim the lost skill of
listening. Listening requires a submersion of the self
and immersion in the other. I also tell the students
that our commitment to listen is a commitment to disagree
in ways that continue a conversation. When we commit
to these skills, we open up avenues of understanding
The second objective is increasing self-awareness of
our own prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors
as well as of our personal histories. Unless we are
brutally honest with ourselves, most of us protect our
self-esteem by excluding our personal stereotypes, prejudices,
and discriminatory behaviors from conscious self-awareness.
It is only when we actually engage in personal contact
with members of different racial groups that we become
aware of our deepest biases.
The third objective is building an awareness of diversity.
We systematically explore, in the traditional old-school
practice of text analysis and discussion, the culture,
language, history, contributions, and sufferings of
American Indians, Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics,
and Jews in this country.
The first three course objectives are the foundational
building blocks for our final objective --personal
interaction with diversity. I emphasize that the application
of our knowledge in the context of personal, face-to-face
interaction with diversity is the keynote of the tour.
It is why we are traveling cross-country rather than
staying in this classroom and interacting with ourselves.
I further emphasize that this interaction will not,
at times, be comfortable. In the long run, however,
it will become, if we allow it, the first step on our
journey to see with the other's eyes.
The tour focuses on the experiences of five specific
minorities in America--Blacks, Asian Americans,
Hispanics, Jews, and American Indians. I realize that
this omits several significant racial, ethnic, and religious
groups that have been victims of prejudice in our country.
It also neglects the compelling social issue of sexism.
However, I operate on the conviction that if we learn
the principles behind prejudice directed at these five
specific groups--and learn them well--we can
apply many of the same principles to prejudice directed
against other groups. I choose to sacrifice breadth
for depth in hopes that depth actually provides us with
a better ability to broadly apply our learning.
In the most recent iteration of the tour, the eight
cities we visited were Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago,
Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington
D.C. For the Los Angeles to San Francisco and San Francisco
to Chicago legs of the tour, we fly. From Chicago on,
however, we ride the rails of Amtrak.
Once we are there, our travel in each city is restricted
to public transit. In addition to the obvious cost benefits,
riding public transit immerses us in a significant part
of the daily life experience of urban America--especially
the daily life experience of those living at or below
the poverty line. It adds a depth to the increasing
realization of the comfort of privilege in which my
students live, work, and play.
Lodging in each city is either in low-budget hotels
or, preferably, in international youth hostels. The
hostels are friendly, accessible, inner-city places--most
were apartments or hotels in a former life--that
cater to traveling student groups. Each night of the
tour includes a required, and often wide-ranging, debriefing
where we process our reactions to the day's conversations
The itinerary of the tour evolves from year to year,
particularly as I continue to develop a pool of community
contacts in each city that can give us--or at least
lead us to people who can give us--more authentic,
"behind-the-scenes" profiles of cities and
communities that we visit. It is these people--at
the nexus between diversity and community in America--that
form the heart of the tour.
Many of these people speak with us as representatives
of their particular organizations--the Mexican
American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Los Angeles),
the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation
(San Francisco), the Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church
(Chicago), and the National Congress of American Indians
(Washington, D.C.). In addition, I complement these
face-to-face interactions with visits to museums and
exhibits that are directly tied to the objective of