Monday, December 14, 2009

How to spot a bigot...

I read this article at the Independent Gay Forum the other day and it got me to thinking about bigots and the difference between bigotry and mere prejudice.

I really do believe there is a distinction, one that many of us, including myself, aren't always so good at acknowledging. I know that I've been a bit too quick to use the term "bigot" to describe those who propagate negative stereotypes about homosexuals, marginalize our legal inequalities, and either support or even vote to deny same-sex couples marriage (not unlike racists who were outraged after the Supreme Court overruled anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 and would have voted to ban interracial marriage if they would have had such an option).

In spite of the prejudices they cling to, and the damage they cause, I realize that while I certainly oppose their view — believing they are misguided, misinformed, and probably selfish and/or careless — many of them probably don't quite add up to the definition of bigot.

So what would that definition be? Well, that depends on your dictionary — they're all over the place. But I decided to put together a list of what I believe are some important criteria:
  • is the intention of the person espousing their belief hostile, including the unapologetic use of words they know to be insulting?
  • do they tend to resort to sweeping generalizations about entire groups of people as opposed to making important distinctions about individuals?
  • are they seemingly incapable of making somewhat reasonable arguments supporting their view?
  • is there an unwillingness to be challenged or admit that their view may be flawed?
  • are they closed-minded to genuinely considering and understanding contradicting views?
  • is there a refusal to accept new information which might undermine their belief?
  • do they seem devoid of much sympathy or empathy with the group of people they are not comfortable with?
  • do they really even understand what they believe and why?
The last one is a bit complicated. Because, in my opinion, it can either suggest that they are completely irrational in their view, and thus would certainly be by definition bigoted in their beliefs, or it could be that they've never really known anything else and in a sense they just don't know any better. Such a person might not be accurately described as a bigot. It would depend on how they stacked up on the other criteria.

I'd say that if you could describe a person or their actions as fitting more than 3 of these then they probably are a bigot. But then it also depends on which ones and the severity...

In the end, I think perhaps whether or not one is a bigot is just one of those things one knows when they see it.

In the future, I am going to try to be a bit more careful about when I apply the word. But make no mistake, bigots do exist and few of them ever imagine themselves to be as blindly prejudiced, intolerant, unreasonable & backward as they indeed are.

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