It seems to me, people today have no real concept of racism, bigotry and prejudice, in fact our definition of these terrible social ills has been corrupted by bigots who peddle prejudice, by calling others racists. Prejudice has been with us since the dawn of time. It is rooted in the human ability to group things. We recognize similarities and group things, and people, according to what we see as their basic properties. That is how we come up with the grouping of various plants and animals. What is a mammal, a reptile or a sedge? They are artificial human descriptions based on our innate human ability to group things. In many ways this has served us well, but in others it holds us back and more perniciously, stifles debate and is a means to illegitimate political power.
The fundamental definition of prejudice is to group people. We all do it to a greater or lesser extent. Those Red Sox fans are all… or, those darn lawyers are all… . As I explained above grouping people and things is an innate human trait. It becomes prejudice when we interact with people we have pigeon holed based on our narrow definition of the group we have tossed them in. If we hate Red Sox fans, because they are Red Sox fans, we are being prejudiced. Moreover, when we hate someone due to the group we define them as being in, we are engaging in bigotry.
Bigotry is prejudice based in hate, envy or in a false sense of superiority. When we hate someone solely due to an artificial categorization then we are being bigoted. No matter if that bigotry is rooted in envy, or superiority, we are being bigoted. This social and most human of evils is part of why people can justify slavery. Those that are enslaved are inferior, because of some group they belong to, IE… Romans enslaved Aqueans and Aqueans enslaved Romans, despite their both being Italians. At least “they” don’t belong to “our” group. This allows all sorts of evils into the world, justified by bigotry. When this bigotry is based on a person’s race it is racism.
Racism is perhaps the oldest form of prejudice. We categorize individuals as members of a race and give all members the same attributes, wants, motivations and morality. This is simply another form of prejudice, and when it results in hate for members of that artificial group, then it is bigotry. As I said earlier, this has been used many times and in many places to justify all sorts of deprivations, slavery, forced migrations, and genocide along with many other evils. All these evils are based on bigotry rooted on a racially defined group.
Prejudice doesn’t always have to be negative. We group ourselves into virtuous classes and sometimes castes. We polish our own egos by saying to ourselves “we are superior because we don’t do this or that,” or “we are better because we do this or that.” We might say this race is better at math, that race is more athletic, or those people are more philosophical. These are all false categorizations because no human defined group is a monolith. We are all individuals and to be truly virtuous we must interact with all people as individuals. The moment we group people we are engaging in prejudice, whether for the good or the bad.
This is why prejudice, bigotry and racism are evils that we should strive to eliminate. It may not be possible, like it is not possible to actually be as godly as Jesus, but it is the duty of all Christians to try. We are called to act kindly to one another and ignore our artificial groupings. Grouping people, and then interacting with them based on our narrow definition of the group we have tossed them into, is despicable, and lowers us.
Today, prejudice, bigotry and racism are at the same time less obvious and more pernicious than they were in the past. Bigotry is still acceptable… if it is against politically disfavored groups, as it has always been. “The rich” are despised in many sectors of human society. “The Jews” have been the subjects of racism and bigotry for millenia and still are. In many places on this planet today it is still acceptable to call for the extermination of the Jewish people. “Tea Baggers” are vilified as racists and bigots proving the claimant a bigot him or her self.
Around the World and throughout time, the political elite have regularly grouped people, vilifying all members of that group, simply to amass political power. Communists have done this extremely effectively. Bigotry can also be a tool to silence discourse… by the artificial charge of bigotry and racism to a group, when a reasonable observer could only come to the conclusion, that the person who groups others… is the real bigot. Hate has always been a powerful tool to gain political leverage against one’s political adversaries, especially when it is rooted in emotionally based prejudice, because emotions cannot be reasoned with.
To categorize people as, those greedy rich, conservative hate mongers, tea baggers or homophobes, and then limit debate on important social and political issues, based on that artificial grouping and derogatory definition, is no less bigoted than to openly hate Jews, Blacks or Hispanics. In fact, it is worse, because it is pernicious. Burning a cross on someone’s lawn is an unmistakable evil, and almost everyone sees it, but calling someone a tea bagger is politically acceptable. (Even President Obama has made this defamatory claim about American Citizens without public outrage). Yes, racism, bigotry and prejudice are evils, because grouping human beings is sinister… and should not be exploited by bigots to stifle the free speech of individuals or amass political power.