Saturday, January 9, 2016

Prejudice, Racism , and Stereotypical Thinking

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House recently stated, “Xenophobia is not what this country stands for.” Although he said that, American history tells a very different story. Our story starts with the Puritans who left England because of religious persecution. They had no difficulty in going from the victim to the persecutor. Per Massachusetts minister William Stoughton, in the 17th century, said “we are surely the Lord’s firstborn in this wilderness.” That prejudice, persecution and hate was explicitly expressed to the Quakers by Cotton Mather as he compared them to serpents, dragons and vipers. These Quakers were banned, exiled, imprisoned and were considered leprous people. “Their teachings as wholesome as the juice of toads.” Baptist and Anglicans had their church windows smashed and their walls splattered with dung and other filth. And even moderates believed that their sacred land was being overrun by the Irish, under orders from Rome, to establish Roman Catholicism on their shores. Other examples of intolerance and hate were directed toward Native Americans per Cotton Mather. He said,” New England was in a state of such distress and danger as it never saw before. ..There was imminent danger in the whole armies of Indians and Gallic bloodhounds.” Further, this hate did not have to be visible because according to the ministry at the time, French, Catholics and Satan were condemned from the pulpit as they were called “bloody and barbarous heathens. The Salem witch trials followed and William Soughton presided over the trials with a 100% conviction rate. Roughly 150 years later, it was the Mormons that were subverting America. And in the next century, the citizenry of Massachusetts elected a Catholic senator, and still in the 20th century, elected a Mormon governor. These 1600s, 1700s and 1800s bigots wouldn’t understand. They’d be afraid that these “others” were racially inferior, were not of Protestant heritage, and would politically, economically, physically and psychologically harm them. The political, presidential rhetoric of today-“building a wall” and “halting Muslim immigration until we figure it out” seems overtly mild compared to early American history. However, make no mistake about it. Early prejudice and discrimination was explicit and more readily perceived. Today’s rhetoric is more of an implicit, out of awareness or subtle message. Perhaps the implicit prejudicial language of today is progress compared to the explicit prejudicial language of years past. While this change may be true, its remains very important that individuals take ownership, as we humans all hold prejudicial, discriminatory or stereotypical attitudes of some type. It’s only one when we can recognize such, that we can then change and modify our irrational thinking. Yes, it’s possible to change irrational attitudes. Although we may say that we hate a black president’s political policies, even though we previously advocated them, we find ourselves standing, cheering at the top of our lungs when our black athlete superstar hurls a touchdown pass; runs the kickoff back for a touchdown; or catches the ball in the end zone in the final seconds to win the game. When that special play happens, and it happens frequently, our focus is not on skin color or other differences. That exceptional athlete is a member of our group simply as the result of being on our team. We also like to believe that the group or team, to which we belong, is better, superior, and more special than the opposition. In other words, we like to be dominant and on top. Being one of ours, now makes it possible for us to identify with that individual because he’s currently part of our special group. It’s about perception since we perceive the other group as inferior. We can like that black athlete when he is a member of our team. If that same black athlete was standing with a group of African Americans, in a dimly lighted room, we probably wouldn’t recognize him, but instead would react in a fearful manner towards him. In addition, celebrities, movie stars, recording artists and others seem to cut across racial lines. This means that our response to certain individuals generally has nothing to do with logic. Are we fickle and do we hold non logical contradictory attitudes about people of different skin color and/ or race? You already know the answer.

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