When Preference Becomes Prejudice

OKC Racial Dot Map_2010 Census

It’s not wrong to like some things more than others, and it is natural to connect more with people who have more in common with us. The problem comes when we ONLY want to be in situations that match our preferences and ONLY be with people who are very similar to us.

Wanting to be around people like us is natural. But God calls us to live and love supernaturally.

The map above shows the distribution of Oklahoma City’s population by ethnicity. There is 1 dot per person, as people identified themselves by ethnicity in the 2010 U.S. Census. Blue dots represent White people, green dots represent Black people, red dots represent Asian people, orange dots represent Hispanic people, and brown dots represent those of Native American, mixed, or other races.

As you can see, OKC has definite blue, green, red, and orange sections. Some of these sections developed because people preferred one type of house over another. Some because people could afford one type of house over another. Some because they had a car or didn’t. Some because they wanted to be near people who spoke the same language or ate the same food as them. Some because they wanted to maintain their voice within the dominant culture. Some simply because they wanted to be around people more like them and not around people who weren’t like them.

I was shocked when I saw this map. I don’t know why. I knew a lot of Black people lived on the Northeast side, Hispanic people on the South side, White people on the Northwest side, and Asian people near the Classen corridor. But seeing the demarcated color pockets made me sad. Race is not the only dividing line, but in the U.S. it is a significant one.

I know how easy it is then to stay in our bubbles, whatever color they are. We (and I mean me, too) then don’t know people who aren’t like us, so we don’t know what their challenges are on a friend-to-friend level, so we make assumptions that then make us even less likely to know someone who looks different from us.

As the dividing walls stay up, some areas get more resources because they have people who both have more resources and know better how to access the resources of the system. When those people then stay in their own bubbles, they don’t know (which means they can’t care) about the schools, sidewalks, parks, families, kids of another bubble. Preferences easily lead to insulation which can lead to prejudices which can lead to social injustices.

I know the pull toward comfort is STRONG. I get it. I still often feel that pull. I still plenty of times default to that pull. But the only way to ward off the cultural blind spots that inevitably come from isolation is for us to sometimes choose to do the uncomfortable thing.

This could mean going to a different park with your kids, visiting a church or meeting where you are a minority or can’t speak the language (to know what it feels like), driving or walking a different way home. It will take some intentionality to develop relationships. It will feel awkward. But every time I have done it, it has been worth it.

As a friend put it, we need to move past prejudices and lean into loving others like Jesus did, the one who broke down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14).

You can view the racial dot map for the entire U.S. here. Image Copyright, 2013, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (Dustin A. Cable, creator).


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Julie Serven craves shalom for people and places. She enjoys writing for nonprofits, editing, helping people with literacy skills, hearing people’s stories, exploring all things OKC, yoga, NPR, and spending time with her ultracool family.