“But I wasn’t being bigoted.”

Who’s a bigot?

I may have seen bias or prejudice defined many times in terms of an individual’s inclinations, beliefs, actions, etc. But recently I tried to explain to someone why I thought his views manifested sexism, and I ended up fairly surprised at the result.

It can be hepful to look at negative assertions.   When we consider the claim that someone is not being sexist or racist something surprising – to me at least – emerges.  Innocence in the land of bigots may be harder than we thought; it isn’t just a matter of having a pure heart.

My friend had tended to see aggressive women on the attack where I saw assertive women attempting to give explanations.  More importantly, I thought “she’s being aggressive and so she’s attacking’ as a sexist interpretation of an assertive women trying to explain something.

I ended up considering another example/inference; namely, “He’s an undocumented immigrant and so should be deported.” It seemed to me that there were a number of places where the question of racism may be appropriate.   I try to capture some of these at the end.  But what also seemed to me now revealing is whether the main interlocutor said he shouldn’t be considered racist. After all, he might say, he was just dealing with matters of fact and law.

In contrast, I thought, as I considered it, that in bringing to bear a mechanism arguably racist in origin and common use, the main interlocutor is really not innocent of racism. What matters is what he is doing with social forms of bigotry.

One upshot is that I think I’m clearer about why I think the murder of Treyvon Martin was racist even if the murderer was not acting out of racist animus.  And so with so much else happening now.

The possibly revealing questions:

  1. Why is the question of documentation being raised?
  2. Is the action just being mentioned or is it closer to being proposed?
  3. Taking action: In the real-life situation where people don’t bother to find anything else about the suspected immigrant, and just call to report the person, then we’ve got the possibility of racism. (If nothing else, causing such unpleasantness in someone’s life is pretty negative.)
  4. What is the status of the questioner? Is the questioner a white person, or is it a person from a minority group?