Racism and prejudice have always existed in human history. Many persons have tried to explain and find the reason to such human behavior towards another group of people. Such researchers are the hope of many to see the racial discrimination ending. Vincent N. Parrillo, through his essay, “Cause of Prejudice” tries to explain the reason of racism and discrmination in the U. S. Parrillo divides his essay in two parts, one for the psychological causes and one for the social reasons.
In the first part, Parillo cites the main psychological causes as levels of prejudices (cognitive, emotional and action-oriented), self-justification, personality and frustration. In the second part he deals with the social reasons which are socialization, economic competition and social norms. For each cause he gives strong arguments based on historical facts or even actual facts and statistics which made his essay reliable. Studs Terkel’s “C. P. Ellis” is another essay that can help us to understand the causes of prejudices.
Terkel tells us the story of C. P. Ellis, a former Klansmen who claims he is no longer racist. C. P. Ellis is a white guy from a low-income class. The numerous misfortunes of his life lead him to become a Ku Klux Klan member. But after some events will happen in his life, he will realize that races do not make a person that different from another. This thought will progressively get him out of racism. Ellis will even accept to work with Ann Atwater, a black woman, on a grant project.
This kind of real life story can help us understand why people become racist or have prejudice against another group of people. C. P. Ellis’s story allows us to look at the reasons in his life that make him become a Ku Klux Klan member and leader. Based on Parillo’s essay we will try to see in Ellis’ story if the reasons of his racism fit Parillo’s ideas of what causes prejudice. In other words, we will see if the psychological and social causes of racism will give us all the solutions to racial discrimination behavior.
Looking at Parillo’s essay, the psychological causes of prejudices which are frustration and low self esteem, and a social cause such as economic competition, can explain C. P. Ellis’ racist behavior. Looking at his childhood, Ellis comes from a low-income family. Because he was poor, his clothes were not appropriate and he was humiliated by his classmates. Ellis felt like he was inferior comparing to the others. At seventeen, his father died and he had to work to support his family.
He worked at a gas station, got married and had four children. One of his children was retarded and blind, which cost Ellis a lot more money for the care. Then he took a loan to buy the gas station, but two months before the end of the payment, he got a heart attack and did not make the repay. All this misfortunes made him really frustrated. As a consequence, Ellis started to blame the black people for his tragedy. In fact, Parillo explains in his essay that “frustrations tend to increase aggression toward others” (583).
Moreover he says that “the frustrated individual or group usually redirects anger against a more visible, vulnerable, and socially sanctioned target” (583). This is exactly what happens when Ellis says “I didn’t know who to blame. I tried to fond somebody. I began to blame it on black people. I had to hate somebody” (593). Ellis felt that he had to find a way to redirects his frustration on somebody else. Because he was so unlucky, he needed people he could blame because it is always easier to make somebody responsible rather than assuming that it is the destiny. Ellis’ racist attitude was because of his frustration.