Probably the best story ever written about the danger of prejudice is The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss. In this story the star belly Sneetches look down on the plain belly Sneetches and the message is clear – if you have a star on your belly you are a superior Sneetch.
And then…along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean – The Fix-it-Up Chappie. This entrepreneur has a machine that will put stars on bellies – and so the plain belly Sneetches – overjoyed to be able to elevate themselves socially – pay him to put stars on their bellies.
Now everyone has stars on their bellies. But the original Star-Belly Sneetches are having none of it. So, McMonkey McBean offers them a solution – he also has a Star-Off machine – “I’ll make you again the best Sneetches on beaches and all it will cost is ten dollars eaches.“.
So they have their stars removed and then so do the others and on and on it goes as they vie with one another to be the best. A terrible confusion ensues while stars are put on bellies and taken off bellies –
They kept paying money,
They kept running through,
Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew,
Whether this one was that one or that one was this one
Or which one was what one…or what one was who. (1)
Eventually the Sneetches spend all their money and Sylvester McMonkey McBean leaves – rich and laughing at the foolish Sneetches.
But expensive as it was, the Sneetches learn their lesson and finally realise the truth,
Sneetches are Sneetches and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
Proving that not only do our prejudices make us mean and ridiculous they also make us vulnerable as we invest in proving the fantasy to ourselves and everyone else.
Watch an animated version of The Sneetches – see More About…
- [Paul Donovan] Why prejudice is really, really bad for growth (ftalphaville.ft.com)