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Checking on prejudice etiquette is asking the wrong question

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Checking on prejudice etiquette is asking the wrong question

Q: I know we all have our prejudices, but how much prejudice rules someone out as a dating partner? Over our second date, the guy I've been seeing revealed (through casual conversation) his attitudes toward several minority groups. They are attitudes I happen to share, but I have always believed you save those things for the privacy of your home or family. Should I be put off by his being so vocal about his prejudices, or can I overlook it since we happen to "match"?

I Hope This Makes Sense

Carolyn: I've read this three times and I still don't know what to say.

If you're judging individuals based on your opinion of the demographic group(s) to which they belong, and all you're really concerned about is the etiquette of revealing bigotry, then all I can do is beg you two not to raise kids with your values.

The problem with prejudice isn't that expressing it is rude outside "the privacy of your home." It's that there's a fundamental flaw in the logic of judging individuals based on incomplete, often wrong and, in most cases, superficial information, which is what you're doing when you lump people into groups.

When you then scorn these groups, you upgrade from faulty logic to hate. Why? To give yourself backhanded praise for not being one of Those People, whoever you're marginalizing at the moment. So, yes, you should both be put off by each other.

The longer you postpone walking a mile in others' shoes, by the way, the more it's going to hurt.

Va.: To Prejudice Girl: Please . . . I am curious. What types of ethnic commentary just come up in conversation? Blank out the ethnic group and give us an example or two.

Prejudice Girl: To Va.: I'm hesitant to answer this question, since my first one apparently reflected badly on me. But, when we talked about his job, he shared anecdotes about (blank)s blaming everyone but themselves for their perpetual trouble with the law. When we talked about his recent move, he told me about a family of (blank)s who left him nasty, inarticulate notes asking him to quit driving up the property values in their neighborhoods.

Basically, he and I are conservative types who believe people should take responsibility for themselves, and we resent that some minority groups still want to make excuses and cast blame everywhere else. It was a deep conversation and he could tell I was receptive to his viewpoint.

Carolyn: Yah. White people never make excuses or bring down property values.

If you fear you look bad — and you do — will that turn your attention inward? Will it take your having a gay child, or one who marries out of your race or faith? Or will you revere your pat groupings as the last word on someone's worth?

I do appreciate your addressing readers' responses (most of which aren't reprinted here). It's no fun, but reading through audience feedback is one of the most useful things I do — not just professionally, but personally. Nothing like hostile scrutiny to test my most basic beliefs.

So, I hope you can do likewise, and take responsibility — a good "conservative" value, you say? — for the intellectual rot underlying your views.

Checking on prejudice etiquette is asking the wrong question 02/08/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 8, 2009 3:30am]
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