How to Handle Prejudice Without Destroying Your Self-Esteem

We can all learn how to do it

Boateng Sekyere
Nov 21, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

It tattoos a grotesque image on your mind, prejudice.

You’ll find it almost everywhere: from the commoner’s doorstep to the palace, the bureaucrat’s drawer to the presidency. The flames of prejudice have even licked some jury boxes and sacred pulpits into ashes.

What is a piece of wood before a raging inferno?

Since clients have forced dozes of this bitter pill down my throat in my photography business, I can see one from a mile, even without my telephoto lens.

Your appearance, surname, and gender are just three instruments with which people play the tune of prejudice. But how should you dance to this charmless piece of tune?

Some prejudices heave into sight from the first impression: be mindful of that trap

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” William Shakespeare.

Every role you play, every action you take, every move you make on this stage, writes a chapter of your book. So don’t let people judge your book by the cover, but by the colorful contents from cover to cover.

I wish people stopped judging others by appearance. Oh, that people have more bites at the impression cherry. But until wishes become galloping horses, you have but one chance to strut your stuff, and you had better snatch it with a thunderous force.

Your hair cannot look like a two-year-old bird nest at an interview or even at a walk in the park. You cannot have garlic on your breath while you pitch your cost-cutting solution to a team of investors. Okay, you could get away with the latter on Zoom, but you get my point?

Boots overgrown with weeds
Boots overgrown with weeds
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

One Monday morning, I went to renew my expiring Visa card at the bank. Half an hour later, a gentleman in a torn Manchester United jersey over a pair of faded denim shorts and running boots stormed into the banking hall, a trail of mud chasing his footsteps from the entrance to the counter he embraced.

Even better, the blazing yellow Mohawk he spotted gave him a distinct look, but one that attracted too many curious stares.

Maybe he had dressed for a role in a movie, or he was only living life on his terms, but with the lady to his right gripping her phone firmer, he made it too easy for people to paint a fitting image with his colorful appearance.

Not only did he leave some pieces of paper on the counter in his 15-minute cameo, he also bequeathed the idea for this post to me. He may be a great guy, but few people would be asking him for directions to the nearest atm.

You can’t always be in a shiny three-piece suit, but your sartorial choices could be better than the looks of someone baptized with a mixture of Coca-Cola and mud.

It’s not a conspiracy against you.

I can’t say I know how it felt when you were on the wrong end of a bias. If only that attractive girl had looked beyond your appearance. If only your boss understood the battles you were fighting to keep your head above the waters of despair.

The list is endless.

But when you settle on the fact that prejudices are one of the vices that must die a slow, painful death, you’ll realize the world is not out to exterminate you. Don’t consign every unfavorable decision to the bin of bias.

People make up their minds based on different reasons: from the understandable to the unreasonable, the unthinkable to the unpardonable.

Settle that fact today, and start taking a different view on peoples’ prejudices against you. They may be wrong or not. But not everyone is out to smother your burning passion with a cold bias blanket.

So don’t let a random act squeeze the last drop of happiness out of you. Pick up the pieces of your broken heart and forge ahead.

Your top-class reaction can make a difference: Take the moral high ground

I may never know how it feels to be pelted with pebbles of prejudice, and in some respects, one can point a derisory finger at me for lending a hand with advice on an issue I have no first-hand experience in.

But I know your top-class reaction can make a world of difference; it could spark a wave of difference in the world.

I wish it were always juicing lemons into lemonade and all that. I wish everyone had skin like a thicket, to absorb prejudice and banish it into darkness, into a distant silence. A tasty pie in the sky, I realize.

But I respect others who strike back with a vengeance and a raging retort, with fire and fury. To every act of prejudice, there are opposite reactions.

You may be at a fork, but whichever road you choose, I can’t criticize you. I would have recommended the one that led to the moral high ground, though. The way of love. Warm, welcoming, overwhelming love.

Four people hold up their fingers to write “love”
Four people hold up their fingers to write “love”
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

In my book, I am always looking for ways to heal an ailing world with the love potion. Always. You can tear a leaf from my book.

Once I faced the common problem of pushing a glass door instead of pulling it to open. Ah, the difficulties of interpreting written instructions on which way a glass door opens.

Instead of helping me, the security guard bellowed at me, asking whether I couldn’t read the instruction to pull. He even called me a name that stung me like a beesting.

Embarrassed, I wanted to throw all 132 pounds of my weight around, a weight that could have knocked his burly frame out of his job.

I wanted to brandish my ID at him, to introduce myself as the facilities manager of the shopping mall the bank was operating in, the commander-in-chief of 14 security personnel like him who would open doors for me at the flash of my eye.

But I took a deep breath and asked myself why he reacted as he did. I figured he was probably having a bad day on the job. Who doesn’t have one of those?

More questions flooded my mind with the speed of a tsunami. Was he going through a divorce or grieving the loss of his mother? Are his children alright?

I figured his behavior was probably the byproduct of a deeper problem. I decided against making him pay a toll on his careless words — words rooted in the soils of prejudice — that could take a psychological toll on me.

I ignored the curious eyes zoomed-in on me, went in, and withdrew my cash.

On my way out, he pulled the door handle before I could reach for it, swinging the door open for me. As I waltzed through, I nodded at him, gave him a thumbs-up, and thanked him.

“Alright sir,” he responded, hand mid-air as if to salute me. Had he learned any lessons from the way he treated me? Had a little bird chirped something into his ear?


It's sad society is mired in the filthy mud of prejudice. Gender, religion, and ethnicity are just three areas we see it at work.

If you fall victim to it, first, understand that the world is not out to get you. Most people are too preoccupied with their issues to weave a web of bias against you. The few bad ones who perpetrate this vice do not represent the real society.

That said, make it difficult for people to form a negative impression of you at the first meeting. You can’t stop it, but you can make it difficult for them with your appearance and conduct, for example.

Finally, remember you have the last word by how you react to prejudice. Will you stoop to kiss the crassly bad dogs, or ascend to stroll the classic high ground?

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Boateng Sekyere

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