April 7, 2020

Symptoms of an Old Disease

By Stephen Tuttle | June 3, 2017

The man in the airline terminal screamed at the Hispanic man, an American citizen, telling him to go home. The woman at the Walmart scored a rare 2-for-1 hate special when she insulted a Latina, then hurled a racial slur at an African American woman in the same encounter. 

Things got uglier still on a commuter train in Oregon, where a man began insulting two young minority women, one of whom was wearing a hajib. When three other passengers tried to intervene, the hatemonger stabbed two of them to death and injured the third. (The young women escaped physical injury.) 

We're hearing there's an uptick in this kind of ignorant and overt bigotry, which came back to life during President Trump's campaign. We're told Trump's use of racial, religious, and gender insults has given license to the haters to slither out from under their rocks and openly spit their venom. 

To be sure, Trump's rhetoric didn't help at all — but it's a symptom of an old disease, not the cause. The only thing new is the omnipresence of smart phones ready to record incidents like those mentioned above, which have been happening all along. 

Religious, racial, ethnic, and gender bias appears to be a human constant. There is no record of any civilization that was ever free of it. Psychologists tell us we have an innate distrust of anyone who looks or speaks differently than we do. That explains fear but not hatred. Hate is passed along from generation to generation like a recessive gene, or from person to person like an infection.  

We've been going after minorities of all sorts since before we were even a country. We came here seeking religious freedom and ended up ostracizing and abusing those who didn't agree. We called women witches and hanged them. (There wasn't any burning at the stake here; that was a European outrage.)  

We killed indigenous people with gleeful barbarity, and our willful ignorance of African culture made slavery all the easier. California once tried to make it illegal for Chinese people to set foot there, and those who were already residents were assessed a special tax.

We've abused Japanese-Americans, and at various times marginalized Italians, Irish, Catholics, and Jews. We decided early on that “different” somehow equated to “inferior,” and that the actions of one member of a group was sufficient to condemn the entire group. We even created our own litany of derogation. 

Let's see ... spics, kikes, wops, fags, dykes, mackerel snappers, dagos, savages, towel heads, bitches, and the entire pantheon of African American insults. Any of that sound familiar? No group outside the white, heterosexual Anglo Saxon-protestant firmament has escaped.  

We know that bigotry is a manifest part of our cultural past and present, but we grow weary of hearing about it. We're always willing to point out the very real progress we have made. After all, we've had an African American president. We have an African-American Supreme Court Justice — not to mention two women justices, one of whom is a Latina. We've had multiple women Secretaries of State, and women and Latinos are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 

Some starring public roles have been filled, it's true. But it's also been reported the African American president received more death threats and needed more Secret Service protection than any previous president. It seems unlikely that health care legislation was the cause. We delude ourselves that any progress means the end of the problem when progress only illuminates it.

It's Muslims and Mexican immigrants who seem to be the latest target of our irrational animus. We have politicians and pundits who want us to believe all Muslims are terrorists and anyone from Mexico is either a criminal or a job-stealer. We now regularly insult and demean both groups, though Mexicans have been a target for a long time.

Never mind that we are statistically way, way more likely to be killed by a relative or known associate than by terrorists bastardizing Islam. Or that illegal immigrants actually commit far less crime than legal residents.


Bigotry is oblivious to reality, so bigots ignore it. 


We like to think we're above such things here in northern Michigan. It would be more accurate to say we're simply away from such things, living in a region so homogeneous that 95-percent-white Traverse City is considered diverse. Racial and cultural sameness, however, do not equate to lack of bias; you can hear plenty of it in conversations on the streets of our hometowns. 


We would prefer this entire racial/gender/religion/ethnicity discussion would just go away. But it can't. We're not even past the beginning of addressing prejudice, not yet willing to acknowledge what we all have tucked away in our darker corners. In that darkness, bias grows into bigotry. Only more and brighter light will kill it. 



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