Prejudice vs. Racism

prej•u•dice [prej-uh-dis]
1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

rac•ism [rey-siz-uh m]
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

Lately, the word racist has been thrown around, seemingly without thought as to what the word really means. The Tea Party has been accused of having a racist element. Shirley Sherrod was prematurely accused of having racist views, prompting the NAACP, White House and news media to overreact based on incomplete information. And accusations of racism have been thrown on the immigration debate like gasoline on a fire.

Some call those who disagree with President Obama’s policies racists, though many of the complaints lodged against Obama are not so different from those against Bush, and the criticisms from the right (and far left) are no more vitriolic today than what was expressed by the left toward Bush in his eight years—and even today.

I believe many of us have prejudices—we form unfavorable/favorable opinions or feelings based on our experience with a person or event, and we take those feelings and make decisions or form opinions about others.

Prejudice is a two-sided fence. On one side of the fence is the person who holds the prejudice. And on the other side is the person against whom the prejudice is held. The important thing to consider, and what I think is often missing today, is that it is the responsibility of both individuals to change the prejudice, sometimes even more so up to the person against whom the prejudice is cast. Prejudice is a kind of ignorance, and ignorance must be unlearned, or re-taught. Who better to re-teach?

But instead of unlearning or re-teaching, we call “racist!” We see it everywhere these days: “Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!” But it gets us nowhere.

Though I can’t deny racism exists, according to the definition above, few are truly racists. Just because we disagree politically, does not make either side racist. Just because we can’t agree on policy, does not make either side racist. Just because we don’t understand a person or culture, does not make us racist. Ignorant prejudice—though also wrong—is not racism.

We toss racism around because there is hardly a word more inflammatory or hurtful. But for us to continue to carelessly cry “racist” is to water down the heinous nature of real racism.

This entry was posted in Bush, immigration, Obama, politics, prejudice, racism, Shirley Sherrod. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Prejudice vs. Racism

  1. ed_quixote says:

    Hats off to you, Jan, for taking on a difficult topic, the mere discussion of which is fraught with peril. May you succeed in bringing light to a subject more commonly associated with heat!I'll play devil's advocate by wondering if "prejudice" is more than just a pejorative term used by victims of unfavorable comments or actions.


  2. kagross says:

    "Who better to teach"? How about the unprejudiced members of the group to whom the prejudiced person belongs? I am doubtful THAT one would be open to being "re-taught" by a person he/she views as "inferior."


  3. Jan Morrill says:

    An excellent point, kagross. But, having been on the side of the fence where prejudice was cast, I still believe it is also that person's responsibility to "unteach" the ignorance, in whatever way possible. I guess the point is, the responsibility falls on all of us.


  4. Bethany says:

    Hello, Jan! This is Bethany Ward; we met at Thursday's NWA meeting. I just came across your blog and would like to say "thank you" for this blog post. I've had several conversations where someone was accusing another of being racist for an off-hand comment, but when I asked them to explain why it was offensive, they announced that they "didn't owe me an explanation." Their argument was that it was painful to talk about racism (which, of course, is true), and that by asking for clarification I was unfairly demanding their time and effort. "It's not a POC's job to teach white people about racism," they said. "You need to look it up." I felt very demoralized by the statement, and alo confused: why slap a label on something and then refuse to explain your reasoning? It was very much a "Gotcha!" situation, where if they didn't explain, no one could argue. That sticky label of "racism" would stay, whether it was true or not.I'm glad to see that other people think it should be a group effort with both sides involved and helping each other, instead of putting the burden all on one side or another.


  5. ed_quixote says:

    Looks like the White House isn't any more comfortable with race than we are:


  6. Jan Morrill says:

    I really appreciate your comment, Bethany. This is an uncomfortable subject to talk about or write about, but I think that's all the more reason we all need to push past our comfort zones and keep discussing it. Prejudice and racisom certainly won't go away on its own.Thank you for the link to the article, ed_quixote. It's obvious by what happened last week with Sherrod that not only are people uncomfortable discussing race, more and more we are using it as "gotcha," which unfortunately, is making many of us even more afraid to broach the subject.


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