I was recently told on Facebook that if I found a group or person that was actually bigoted1 that that person would stand by me… but until then I was on my own.
And this is the pernicious and horrible strength of institutional and structural bigotry.
You could start, if you were cowardly, with those people who are quietly bigoted. The people who may not march in the street or declare their bigotry in an Archie Bunker kind of way.
You could start, if you were cowardly, with the people who are “just joking” every time they’re called on a bigoted statement. You could start with the people who make decisions based on their bigotry without even thinking about it because everyone knows “those people are like that”.2
But that is easy. That is the coward’s way out.
That is the coward’s way of avoiding the bigotry that permeates the very institutions and structure of our society.
The far more courageous – and difficult – path is to examine institutional bigotry and structural discrimination. It is to confront how bigotry is not explicit, but is implicit in “common sense” and “the way things are”.
It is to examine how history has informed social, economic, and class differences in our society. It is to confront and demolish the ways that we do things that perpetuate inequality, without anyone involved actually thinking that they’re personally being bigoted.
Racial profiling is often the perfect example. If you stop a greater percentage of people of a specific type to search for contraband, you will find that more of your arrests come from that class of people. It is a simple error of sample selection, but unlike a survey, it has real effects on real people’s lives.
Everyone – including myself – has these bigoted prejudices taught to them by example, by explicit instruction, and just by absorbing the culture around us.
There is only one way to minimize the damage: that is to closely question the structures around us. To closely question the impact our actions have, regardless of our intentions or conscious motivations.
1 I’m paraphrasing slightly, including that they said “racist” instead of “bigoted”, but the point applies. They apparently hadn’t heard of the KKK.
2 I heard those statements just today. TODAY.