When bigotry ends

Disclaimer: It might be easy to read this post and think that I’m trying to imply that modern-day American prejudice against (for instance) blacks, or women, or gays, is no longer an issue. I am NOT trying to do that. This is purely a discussion about hypotheticals or possible futures, not some backwards attempt to make some weird and incorrect political point.
So, at various times in US history, there have been groups that have been discriminated against for one reason or another. These days, for instance, women. Or blacks. Or Native Americans. Or gays.

But further back in the past, there was quite a bit of discrimination against some other groups: Jews, Irish, Italians, Catholics, eastern European immigrants in general.

Some of those former bigotries are, in my opinion, no longer issues at all… particularly those against various non-English European immigrants. Does an American of Greek or Italian or Irish or German heritage face non-trivial obstacles growing up in the US due to their ethnicity? My instinct is that no, they do not. Which means I’m willing to say that those bigotries, those societal inequities, have been fixed. (If I’m wrong, I’m happy to be corrected…)

(Note: there’s an interesting discussion about the term “non-trivial” there. What if John Smith and Seamus O’Sullivan, who are equally innately talented, grow up in the same neighborhood, attend the same schools, get into the same universities, and end up with the same jobs… but 5 or 10 times over the course of his life, Seamus heard some drunk guy call him a nasty Irish name, and maybe one of two of those guys, he thought, really meant it seriously. Does that still count as having to deal with bigotry and prejudice?)
So if there were bigotries that no longer exist, that means that bigotries can in fact, go away. So… how do we tell? How will we know when it happens? And when it does happen, what will we do? What place will organizations like NOW or NAACP have in a hypothetical future in which their (presumed) primary goal has been finally accomplished?

Obama was elected president… but that clearly doesn’t mean anti-black racism has ended. But what should we be looking at? Percentage of blacks in the senate? Winning academy awards? Running fortune 500 companies? Or is the right thing to be looking at things like incarceration rates? Poverty rates? College graduation rates? Or none of the above?

Historically, does anyone know if there were organizations struggling to end prejudice against Irish or Italian immigrants? If so, what happened to those organizations? Did they just kind of transition into being fraternal-let’s-keep-our-history-and-culture-alive organizations?
Finally, one interesting case is Judaism, which I’m particularly aware of because I’m half Jewish. I think it was absolutely remarkable how little it was remarked upon back in 2000 that Gore’s running mate, who came within a butterfly ballot of being within a heartbeat of the presidency, was Jewish. And that was 16 years ago.

On the other hand, it’s not like there are never anti-semitic incidents in the US. On the other other hand, my instinct is that the big change is that there is close to zero acceptance, either from culture as a whole or from governmental institutions, for that prejudice. So what if a particular group faced at-most-trivial institutionalized or cultural prejudice, but a small but non-zero amount of prejudice from individuals?

I have an Irish Catholic background and I think anti-Catholicism is virtually dead in America. When John Kennedy ran for President it was still an issue. But nobody has even mentioned that several recent Presidential candidates have been Catholic. Nobody cares if you’re Catholic anymore.

It’ll be nice if we can reach that point about all the issues which separate us.

Then a white Starfleet captain will totally kiss the hot black woman who tells everybody what the computer just said. But we’ll still hate the Klingons. When the captain kisses a Klingon, it won’t be because he’s not bigoted, but because he’s fucking blind.

Such is progress. Its never soon enough, its never enough enough. We fight like hell to get anything, then fight like hell to keep it. My whimsy above hides a grim grain of truth: if we are to arrive at that world, we will have learned to live together. We have invented an awesome array of death and destruction, and if we can’t live together, we flat out won’t live.

So, really, one way or the other, bigotry will become extinct. (This sort of thing is why everybody calls me Mr. Sunshine…)

Both JFK and Lieberman are white. We elected a black man to the white house. He faced racist from a significant minority of the country.

For blacks, I would look at poverty rate and incarceration rate as two of the most important indicators. When the poverty rate and incarceration rate for blacks is at rough parity with whites, then I think we will have solved most of the problem with racism towards blacks.

Actually, I think you raise an interesting point. Bigotry is dead when we don’t need to fight like hell to keep it. It’s not like if we dropped our vigilance, anti-Greek-immigrant prejudice would creep back up.

We only need to fight like hell to keep it (where “it” is any societal progress) when society is still in a state where significant portions of the population, particularly those with power, hold to the bigotry or prejudice. Eventually, at least in the cases I discussed in the OP, even that is no longer the case.

Correcting for income and education level and so forth, or not?

For instance, imagine that someone cast a magical spell tomorrow and instantly removed every synapse of racism from the brain of everyone in the USA, permanently and forever. It would be a LONG LONG time after that before there was any hope of poverty and incarceration rates leveling out without concerted effort to fix them… but it seems a bit weird to talk about societal racism when literally no one in the entire country is even capable of being racist.

One other thought: there’s also an interesting angle that particularly comes up with respect to women. I think we all fervently want it to be the case that people of different races are and should be equal. But men and women are clearly different… most clearly in that only women can get pregnant and raise children, but there’s also a fair bit of at least plausible evidence that there are differences between male and female brains. And there are certainly differences in things like upper body strength. If there was absolutely zero prejudice against women, how would things stabilize? Would 50% of political leaders or business leaders be female? More? Less? I’m curious what the trend lines look like for female membership in parliaments and congresses around the world… is there any indication where they might be leveling off?

And since there are some upper-body-strength-relevant professions that would presumably be majority (although hopefully not exclusively) men, then there would have to be some other professions with majority women, just to make the numbers add up.

But short of a magic zap changing things overnight, it’s going to be an incremental process that addresses multiple issues. If black people have significantly lower incomes or education levels then that itself is evidence that racism still has an effect. As racism is reduced, black incomes and black education levels and black Oscar nominations will rise.

[FONT=Georgia]This question kind of reminds me of that scene in “Scarface” (1983 version) where Tony Montana throws a fit in the ritzy restaurant and then gives the patrons a bit of a lecture, something on the lines of: “You think I’m the bad guy. You think you’ll get rid of me. You won’t, though. People like you ***need ***people like me so you can point fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’ You’re hypocrites,” blah, blah, blah.

Well, with this scene in mind, I think that we need the bigots in society so we can have someone to either laugh at or to scorn. There’s not much point in being against racism if racism doesn’t exist anymore, is there?

No yin to the yang, as it were. Why have Superman if there’s no Lex Luther? Why have Joker if there’s no Batman? See where I’m going with this?

So, no, we won’t ever get rid of the bigots in society, because, as much as we like to pretend otherwise, we need them for the balance that they provide, to point at and say, “There’s the bad guy,” and thus, we have something to oppose in the first place. Opposing something that doesn’t exist is simply illogical. That’s just me, though.

When the bigotry we’re fighting against today ends, we’ll just have new forms sprout up. For example, there’s a whole strain of anti-muslim bigotry that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Sure, they were the victims of racism and xenophobia and everything back then, but it just seems to be a whole new type of bigotry forming in response to the current terrorism zeitgeist.

Maybe in a hundred years we’ll be talking about anti-alien bigotry, or bigotry against sentient animals, or cyborgs, or whatever. But the idea that bigotry in general will end is a pipe dream.

Maybe. But I don’t have anything better to do, so what the Hell.

I dunno… there’s some validity to the argument that society needs someone to look down on. But I don’t see why that has to be bigots. For centuries, Christian-majority societies spent enormous amounts of effort arguing about various heresies and schisms, and going to war over them. They might have said “hey, maybe we’ll figure out whether iconoclasts are going to hell or not eventually, but surely some other heresy will just pop up. We clearly need them!”. But these days, that’s just not something that consumes society.

Society can change.

Well, the point still stands that we need someone, anyone, to be society’s “villain” or “bad guy.” Society can, and indeed does, change, but as the heroes change, so must the villains. Bigotry in general, knowing human nature, won’t go away even in the lifetimes of my great-grandchildren. In fact, the simple act of creating the dichotomy of “heroes” and “villains” is a form of bigotry in that we instantly prejudice ourselves to anyone we declare “the villain,” without any regard as to whether such a declaration is justified or not.

Humans have to be taught either end: tolerance or bigotry. At that, human nature is pretty hard to change, even with things like education. Unfortunately, not everyone can be taught the boundaries of good and evil. This is why I adamantly reject Rousseau’s line that people are inherently good and “society” makes them evil. Humanity is flawed, deeply and severely. (Any war in history. Enough said)

To me, pitching the notion that society makes people bad is just another, more elaborate variant of trying to blame other people for your actions.

(Then again, I’m just as guilty of this as any other man.)

This makes no sense. Either humans are naturally bigotted and need to be taught tolerance, or humans are naturally tolerant and need to be taught bigotry… but it can’t be both.

I tend to subscribe to the theory that humans are innately tribal… we like to divide people into “us” and “others”, and we feel more allegiance towards, and sympathy towards, the “us”. But I don’t think that automatically leads to the kind of society-wide bigotry that I’m talking about here. Certainly the societal acceptance of bigotry-in-general has varied wildly between different societies in different times… I don’t see any hard and fast rule why that level could never fall all the way to nearly-zero.

The best way would be to look into our subconscious minds. When implicit bias tests show null results for a particular group, then we can conclude that bigotry against that group no longer exists in a meaningful way.

I’m guessing that very few Americans would show implicit bias against, say, people with Irish surnames. But the bias js probably tremenduous against Hispanics or Middle Easterners.

Also, when Robert White’s resume gets tossed in the circular file at the same frequency as the identical resume with Keisha Black’s name on it, then we will know we’ve reached the promised land.

Long damn trip. Gets longer because so many people want rest stops.

That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in… but I wonder if that’s enough. Would the same implicit bias test measure:
-would you hire this person?
-would you go to the other side of the street if you saw this person at night?
-would you be comfortable being friends with this person?
-would you be comfortable if your child was dating this person?
-would you vote for this person for president?

Would the test still give viable results if the testee is “on guard”? Someone applying for an HR position, say, would likely know that “failing” the bigotry test is right out. So all he has to be is smart enough to figure out what you or I might say.

The only way to answer these questions (that doesn’t involve very intrusive survelliance) is to just ask people and hope they respond truthfully. But we know how untrustworthy people are when discussing their own biases. Very few racists think they are racist, or are willing to admit as much.

But sure, I think it is safe to assume person with no implicit bias isn’t likely to discriminate. I think our actions are a good reflection of what exists in our unconscious. But it’s not a perfect reflection. It is possible to harbor implicit bias and still treat everyone fairly, especially when a person is very much aware that they are prejudiced. I know I have implicit biases against certain groups, but I think someone would be hard pressed to find concrete evidence of this in my behavior. (For one thing, the racial/ethnic diversity of the people I regularly interact with is quite low. So my tolerant open-mindedness might exist only in my imagination).