How often do you judge a book by its cover?

As a child, one of the first things I was taught was, don’t judge a book by its cover. It is one of those metaphorical phrases, that has been engraved in my mind my whole life, which provoked me to do some research on why humans judge in the first place.

I found in my research, that there are two kinds of attributions we make about other people’s behavior, situational and dispositional.  Situational attribution is “the process of assigning the cause of behavior to some situation or event outside a person’s control rather than to some internal characteristic” whereas dispositional attribution “assigns the cause of behavior to some internal characteristic of a person, rather than to outside forces.” Having some insight and perspective as to why we judge, can help us NOTICE when we are doing it and help us get out of that judgmental mindset. The way we view and judge others, is a reflection of ourselves.

While reading Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle, I felt myself sometimes slipping into a judgmental mindset, simply because I did not understand Ricky Rice’s actions and motives. Ricky constantly is moving his heroin around, but never shoots it. He discusses the outlook society has on drug addicts, for an example, on page 95, he states, “you find that people come up with an entire history based on that one fact. They assume the worst about you. This is true if you have a criminal past, absolutely, but even if you just had an unusual childhood, people will look at you crooked.” Ricky has been seen as nothing but a worthless, helpless criminal to some people because they judged him off of one thing. These people who have judged Ricky, have a single story of him.

Ex-criminals in our current society, are treated unfairly and are constantly being judged. Due to “systemic legal and societal barriers, once ex-offenders are released, it is more difficult for them compared to the general populace to find gainful employment, secure a consistent source of housing, and generally function in society.”  Another interesting statistic I found from the article, “The Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry Into Society” written by Simmons Staff, is that “in the 2002 study of Milwaukee employers mentioned above, African-American offenders were two-thirds less likely to receive offers, and African-American non-offenders were half as likely as white non-offenders to receive an offer.” Many of these former incarcerated candidates that have extremely similar professional experience as non-offenders were less than half as likely to receive job offers.

As I was reading some of the poems from the packet Professor McCoy gave us, I came across the poem, “For the Straight Folks” by Pat Parker. In Parker’s poem, she provides several situations where those who are gay, are being judged. For an example, she states, “you go in a public bathroom and all over the walls/there’s John/ loves Mary, Janice digs Richard, Pepe loves/Delores, etc., etc./BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.” By ending most stanzas with the sentence, “BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant” I believe Parker is trying to bring light to the hypocritical attitude that some heterosexuals have towards gays. Some of these straight folks, are so focused on judging what gays are doing, that they do not even have time to evaluate their own blatant actions.

Overall, us humans cannot completely control our judging, however, we can learn to NOTICE when we are thinking in this mindset and do our best to limit it. We never truly know people’s motives and should focus more on ourselves rather than what other people are doing.

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