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?