By Ross Bishop
Sometimes we just accept things without really looking at what’s behind them. Take prejudice for example. It is largely an oxymoron. You can’t dislike a whole race or group. It's not possible. You can dislike some of “them” for what they do - their morals, lifestyle, social values, etc. but not everyone in a group acts in the same way and to paint with such a wide brush is just plain wrong. Besides, how can you dislike someone for being who they are?
We treat prejudice as an externalization and of course, that is how it manifests, but at its core prejudice is an expression of insecurity about one's own beliefs. What you do threatens me because it represents a different way of thinking and acting, and I am not sufficiently anchored in what I believe to allow you the freedom to be you. I must either try and control your behavior or belittle you so that you become insignificant.
Truth is, when I do that I am not in "me" either, because I am not grounded in what I "believe" myself. Otherwise there would be no issue. I’d just let you be. In the world of prejudice there isn't room for both of us. There really isn't even room for me because I’m clinging to someone else’s beliefs and there is hardly room in there for them!
Prejudiced people have adopted someone else’s (parent’s, friends or religion’s) values and never really challenged or questioned them for themselves. Prejudiced people tend to have opinions that are held without regard to the evidence. The path of the hater is to discount, disrespect and belittle what the other does or who they are.
Prejudice is fueled by ignorance and fear with a little jealousy mixed in. “Before I ever learned to hate, I learned to fear,” said a young member of a violent racist group. Such fear is mostly rooted in ignorance with a tendency toward violence.
Prejudiced individuals tend to twist, distort, misinterpret or even ignore facts that conflict with their predetermined opinions. This is why factual attacks on the Trump campaign have had virtually no effect. The world of prejudiced people is built on someone else’s beliefs and therefore the foundation under their beliefs is laced with uncertainty. And what will these people do if their beliefs turn out to be unfounded? They cannot let that idea in.
Prejudiced people feel inferior and mask those feelings by projecting them onto a target group or person. This is where practices like scapegoating, stereotyping and slurs are used to “justify” discrimination and prejudice. By using other people as scapegoats they reduce their own anxiety and uncertainty by attributing complex problems to a simple cause: “Those people are the source of my problems.”
Margaret Meade said, “But the infant who is continually hungry, cold and neglected will come to hate those who hurt him and do not attend to his needs. In a sense, both love and hate are learned: the infant is born with the capacity to respond, and experience guides his learning."
It does seem true that hatred of a given person or a category of persons or things must be learned. We have to be taught whom to hate, and if we are not taught to hate people in categories, we won’t.”
After Dylann Roof fired on worshippers gathered inside the historically black Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine congregants and claiming that they “rape our women” and “are taking over our country,” a disturbing image circulated online. A Facebook picture of Roof sitting on top of his car and straddling a license plate celebrating the “Confederate States of America” went viral, stoking an outrage that prompted South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag that had flown over the Statehouse for over a century and a half.
Were it not for their own insecurity, prejudiced people could simply let others go their own way, because one person’s behavior rarely impacts on anyone else’s. Who cares if gays want to marry? Or what someone else choses to wear? Or, if my religion believes in howling at the moon? If you don’t believe in these things, don’t do them! It is the prejudiced person’s need to stamp out the “evil” that threatens them that often leads to radical behavior and violence.
In an article entitled, “America's Willful Ignorance of Our History of Lynching Feeds Racial Hatred”, Christen Smith and Melissa Stuckey wrote, “Lynching and other forms of racial violence are about power-to-control and to exclude. In the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, it (lynching) was used to deny African-Americans full access to the American dream. Indeed this violence often occurred just because African-Americans tried to exercise their rights as citizens. Consider: Jimmie Lee Jackson and countless others who were lynched in the pursuit of the right to vote in places like Selma. Whites also lynched black people to dispossess them from their land in Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri.”
"Purists" will manufacture issues in order to justify their prejudice. The present North Carolina bathroom fiasco is a good example. Abortion is another place where protection of the innocent (the unborn) is used to justify the need to control other people’s behavior. Anti-abortionists wrap themselves in the flag of “protecting the innocent children,” but you see the flimsy foundation in this posture because these are the same people who won't adopt orphans and who resist supporting children once they are born through spending for schools, pre-school programs, school lunches, subsistence housing, food stamps, etc., etc.
Alex Haley, the author of Roots, said, “If you think about it, there’s not a religious group, there’s not a nationalistic group, there’s not a tribe, there is no grouping of people to my knowledge, of any consequence, who have not, at one or another time, been the object of hatred, racism, or who has not had people against them just because they were them.”
In the 1800’s, when America was still a nation of immigrants, the Negroes, Irish, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese and others suffered from social (Protestant Christian) prejudice. In my lifetime, I have seen the resistance against Catholics when John Kennedy ran for the Presidency and racial bigotry when Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers were assassinated and Black churches were burned throughout the South. We no longer have public lynchings but Mosque burnings and gay and Muslim beatings and shootings have become current targets of opportunity.
Blacks have been subjected to racial prejudice in America because they were easy to identify and because many of them didn’t buy into Anglo cultural values (another form of slavery). The minority sub-culture (Blacks, Hispanics, etc.) exist on values that challenge Anglo norms and that has been and continues to be, a source of conflict and prejudice.
Historically we have burned heretics at the stake because of the threat they posed. They came from within the faith, they were not just religious dissidents from afar. Giordano Bruno, a Dominican Friar and an early astronomer, challenged Catholic Church doctrine about the nature of the universe and was burned at the stake in 1600 for his teachings. He famously said, “Maybe you who condemn me are in greater fear than I who am condemned.”
A lesson some of us have yet to learn.
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