bigotry vs prejudice vs racism

Stereotypes - negative & positive

In making character judgements about individuals or assessing situations, our attentions are often drawn to the use of stereotypes. There exist a number of stereotypes associated with race. Some are negative others positive. While it is possible to employ widely known stereotypes in a neutral way we live with racial stereotypes, these being the creation of racist ideas. Just as well we live with stereotypes about women and gays of sexist and homophobic origins. One can be a bigot or prejudiced about any number of things. At one time I could have been called a Macintosh bigot. "Macs are the greatest, people who use IBM compatibles are idiots and fools. (unless of course, they use them to access the Race Man's Home Companion, after all content is more important than hardware) But we are not talking about computers, we are talking about race. So in the context of this discussion, bigot means racial bigot; prejudices mean racial prejudices.

Any American who does not question their racial prejudices is likely to be unduly influenced by some racist ideas. The unreflective citizen will not be aware of the content or degree of their racism. Their prejudices will not necessarily lead them into conflict, therefore they may never really understand the true extent of their proclivities towards racist ideas or resistance to them. By default, since this nation is and has been a bastion of white supremacy(1), that makes the unreflective citizen most likely a bigot or even an extrinsic racist. Despite the fact that it is reasonable to give the unreflective citizen the benefit of the doubt, all Americans are conscious of race. Thus the unreflective citizen is either willfully ignorant, morally lazy or under the age of 7. At the very least, and except for the last case, such a weak citizen person constitutes a latent threat to the vitality of moral democracy.

A bigot is aware of their prejudices and defends them. The bigot is not necessarily crazy, nor illogical, nor does the bigot necessarily expect anyone to think as they do. The bigot has opinions and defends their opinions as their own. As such, when you approach or confront the bigot they are likely to respond, "I am not racist". They might be attempting to say "I am not a Racist", meaning that they don't try to convince others - that they are not ideologues. That fact does not change the content of their opinions, which are racist. If you are a racial bigot, it is because you have internalized and accepted racist ideas. A bigot in this sense is quite obviously racist. That doesn't necessarily make them dangerous as a person, but certainly destructive as a citizen. It is not the personality of the bigot with which the race man should concern himself, rather his attachment to foul ideas. Often, bigots are simply enamored of holding strongly to controversial ideas without much regard to the logical consequences of such ideas. They often defend their ideas on the matter of race by denying that they have any power to effect change or hurt anyone.

Clearly, a racial bigot is comfortable in the absence of challenge to his racist ideas. Not being powerful, individually, the bigot may consider his presence neutral. What happens if this 'neutral' environment is a business or a church? Could it be that the bigot is also surrounded by like-minded individuals? Could it be that people are unwittingly tolerant of his racist ideas? Questions such as these are very relevant to issues like institutional racism and affirmative action. The bigot's acknowledged racism and 'forgiven' powerlessness becomes a source of conflict when an institution's credibility is called into question. Just as a neighborhood loses security when that 'nice quiet tenant' is shown to be an axe murderer, the society around bigots lose credibility. The acceptance of a bigot, especially the conscious acceptance, puts a 'price' on racism. "It's okay for Marge Schott to be a bigot because she runs a good baseball team." Or "It's ok for Darryl Gates to be a bigot because he runs the police department". Unfortunately this easily translates into justifications which include and 'excusable minority' of bigots. "It's ok for some police officers in Philadelphia to be bigots, because on the whole most officers are not". Or "it's okay for that fraternity to be bigots because they need a home too." Or "It's okay for black people to be bigots because most white people are." The race man is intolerant of bigotry.

Racial prejudice affects us all. We all know the stereotypes and we all keep them alive. That they have not changed much over the years demonstrates the staying power of racist ideas despite the fact that 99% of Americans will deny being ideological racists. But what effect does personal prejudice have? The race man is more properly concerned not with the fact of individual's personal prejudices but the degree to which it is distinct from or supported by racist ideas. An individual whose personal prejudice parallels a racial prejudice is not necessarily problematic, but does this individual extend the thinking? If I am white and my sister was beat up by a black person, I may come to fear blacks. But should I now believe them to be intellectually inferior and lazy as well? Should I seek to exemplify or debunk prejudices be they positive or negative?

(1) In the 1920s, about one out of every 25 white Americans was a member of the KKK.