April 23-24, 2016

I’ve been thinking about a few words lately since a priest brought up the subject at a meeting about a month ago. The issue was the difference between prejudice, bigotry and racism. We went around the table for a while and expressed our views. Someone said that the word “race” is a human invention that separates us, and that the bigger word is humanity. As he was speaking, I thought of this example, which we tend to hear often, “They’re taking our jobs.” Right away I began wondering who is “they” and who is “our.” Then I started to think, do “the jobs” belong to anyone in particular? 

As you can probably tell already, this can get complicated because no one comes to the table without life experiences, influences, history and family background. I read a couple of articles on the subject and came to this conclusion: Prejudice is an attitude. It is feelings that I have about a person or a group of people that does not have any real foundation apart from hearsay. I suppose if I form a negative opinion about someone because of my experience with someone who reminds me of them without having ever met the person, it could be prejudice. In a sense I am “prejudging” them, e.g. I see a group of teenagers approaching and I cross to the other side of the street out of fear. 

Bigotry, I believe, goes beyond prejudice and leads to exclusion of someone or some group of people based on preconceived notions. I believe that excluding a class of people, or one gender, from being eligible for certain jobs may be considered bigotry. They are not eligible based only on external characteristics and their exclusion has nothing to do with testing, ability, or qualifications. They are not even able to apply for positions, in many cases. 

Racism is one of many “isms” in society today, e.g. sexism, homophobism, ageism, denominationalism. They tend to be systemic, meaning they are built into society and have been acceptable usually because the people making the rules are not affected negatively by those rules. Racism can be so systemic that people are legitimately surprised when they realize there is a problem with the system as is. Racism along with many other “isms” are usually confronted only when those who suffer challenge the system. 

The question for me becomes do we progress (regress) from prejudice to bigotry to racism? It is one thing to say, “I will know it when I see it,” but it’s another thing altogether to say, “I will know it when I experience it.” Are there some privileged enough to never experience prejudice, bigotry, or racism directed at them? Food for thought! 

Enjoy Life! 
Fr. Coyne


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