I remember being taught in college that prejudice is usually a result of lack of communication and therefore understanding. Of course they were talking broadly, but the concept does hold true even on a much smaller levels.
Did you ever meet someone you really didn't like? And I don't mean just first impressions. A lot of us don't come across well if you judge on first impressions alone.
I mean someone you have contact with over and over and you just don't like. They irritate you. I can think of two very specific examples. And one of those people ended up being a really good friend, and the other a good co-worker.
Why? Because we had a conversation. One that went beyond the masks and the pretense. One that helped me know them, what made them tick. And once they allowed me to see them, see their heart, see their baggage, what made them the way they were, the whole picture shifted. They no longer seemed petty, or mean, or derogatory. When those things still surfaced (and believe me, they did/do...) I understood where they came from and worked with them.
Now, I must admit, the reverse is also true - I have had friends who I totally gelled with. Totally got, totally resonated with. Only to find out that was a mask too. That was not the real them. And when I got to see the real person behind the mask I realized that was not the person I wanted to spend time with. Or be so transparently open with anymore. Which is sad. Had those people been who they really were to start with I probably would still have a relationship with them today because I would have known and accepted and understood the real them. Those masks that we think help us only hinder. I don't know where I'm going with this - it was just some thoughts that hit me as I was starting up all the computers in the computer lab this morning. Before we are so quick to judge we need to make an effort to get to know a person. We might just be surprised at what we find!