Posted by: alittlesipoflemmonade | February 13, 2014

What is a bigot?

It has occurred to me that some clarification is needed on what is and is not bigotry.

Since Merriam-Webster defines bigotry in terms of a bigot, let’s define bigot:
a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

So some are arguing that since their belief (and attempt to legislate on that belief) is based in religion, it is therefore not bigotry. Or they argue that they simply have an opinion different, however equal in merit, from someone advocating equality and social justice.  Some claim that since they’re not advocating for Jim Crow style laws, their attitudes cannot be bigoted.  After all, no one wants to be called a bigot. Being a bigot is bad. So lets put it up against the definition, shall we?

The following 2 conditions must BOTH be met:

Do people who attempt to criminalize and slander those of a particular group STRONGLY dislike that group’s members or ideas?

Strongly is a qualitative adverb.  One can expect that if someone is trying to argue that they are not a bigot, that their dislike is average at most.  So let’s add a common sense litmus for “strongly”.  Are any of the following conditions true?  If they are willing to spend money to demonstrate their dislike, their dislike is strong.  If they use social media to engage in hate speech or to bully those they dislike, their dislike is strong.  If they are willing to set aside the constitution of their country to facilitate their dislike, their dislike is strong.  (note that anyone voting or working against equal rights for all within the United States falls into this category)  If they vote for a candidate whose platform is otherwise contrary to their self interest except for the shared dislike, their dislike is strong.  So consider again:

Do people who attempt to criminalize and slander those of a particular group STRONGLY dislike that group’s members or ideas?

No?  Then okay, they might be a bit of a jerk, but they are not a bigot.

Yes?  Then continue to the next criteria of bigotry.

Do people who attempt to criminalize and slander those of a particular group UNFAIRLY dislike that group’s members or ideas?

Unfairly is another qualitative adverb and harder to define, so I will defer to Merriam-Webster again — treating people in a way that favors some over others.  Since the treatment in question is to dislike, let’s rephrase the definition — disliking people in a way that favors some over others.  That sounds very odd and perhaps impossible, but consider the following scenario.

Mr. Square is moving to a new a city where there are circles, pentagons, and triangles.  He goes to a mixer to meet some new shapes and sure enough the groups is very diverse.  Mr. Square has never met anyone but other squares.  He’s heard about pentagons, though, and doesn’t even look at one.  He takes once glance at a circle, decides they’re too strange and decides they’re no good, but those triangles seem okay and he has no pre-conceived notions of what to expect.  So he decides he is willing to be social with triangles and only triangles.

This sounds insane, but the psychology of this happens ALL THE TIME!  This situation is unfair, because Mr. Square does make any attempt to get to know the pentagons or circles, despite having the exact same personal experience with them as he’s had with triangles.

The other way to unfairly dislike a group or idea is for it to behave identically to other groups or ideas that are not disliked.  Simplistically modeled, this would be like having Mr. Square meeting someone online  where he doesn’t know what shape they are, and discovering through conversation that they are “brothers from another mother” or “soul mates” or something like that.  Mr. Square is sure he’s made a new friend until he finds out the other shape is in fact a circle.  GASP!  So much for finding a new friend.  So as before, consider again:

Do people who attempt to criminalize and slander those of a particular group UNFAIRLY dislike that group’s members or ideas?

No?  Then okay.  Not everyone is going to like everything or everyone.  It happens.

Yes? Then they are a bigot.

The question for society is whether or not their bigotry adversely affects others.  Is it okay to be a bigot as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone?

The thing is, being bigoted hurts others by definition.  If you strongly dislike a group or idea your actions are either directly causing pain to others or aiding those who cause pain to others.  Personally, I would define a mentality of bigotry without action to be prejudice.  It isn’t a great personality trait either, but at least it doesn’t harm others.  Fair warning, though, it’s a short step from prejudiced thoughts to bigoted actions.

The only thing left to decide is whether bigotry really is a bad thing.  After all, if it is morally right to hurt someone due to religious convictions, then freedom of religion stipulates that bigotry be tolerated.  I find 3 major flaws in that statement:

1)  I have looked and looked and looked and looked for a religious endorsement of hurting others.  Islam is the only one I’m still not sure about, because my research has turned up conflicting information (please feel free to comment if you can respond to this).  Christianity however, using the New Testament as the trump card it is, makes it very clear that the only sin anyone need worry about is their own.  All other religions look upon hurting others negatively, no matter the reason.

2)  Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  Thus a bigot cannot use their misguided religious interpretation to impose their religious views on others.  For those that claim they are adhering to the tenets of their faith by protecting their children, refraining from bigotry does not endanger the child.  You can still teach your faith of intolerance and the government will continue to remind them that those beliefs cannot be inflicted upon others.  If it bothers you that your religious beliefs can’t dictate policy in America, then you have two options: move to a country with an official religion that espouses beliefs similar to your own or legally change the 1st Amendment and then establish a specific brand of Christianity as the state religion.

3)  To condemn intolerance is to be intolerant.  This is a common complaint of bigots these days.  They complain that the liberal media and liberal America is intolerant of their intolerance.  If the government sanctions intolerance towards anyone through policies, intolerance-based legislation can affect anyone.  And someday, that might include those so ardently screaming for their right to hurt others with their hate.  Additionally, if an individual’s intolerance becomes hate speech or bullying, it is no longer a frame of mind, but a set of hurtful actions.

I know that this is a very emotionally charged subject and that you, dear reader, may suddenly realize my definition makes you a bigot.  The thing is, you don’t have to be a bigot.  You don’t have to out yourself, though apologizing to someone you’ve hurt is never a bad idea.  This is not designed to bully you into wearing a sign on your back that says, “I’m a bigot”.  However, you can educate yourself and treat people fairly, regardless of your personal views.  You can refrain from taking action that harms others based on your personal views.  I would love it if you would stop being hateful at all, but that’s the cool thing about America — you can be hateful as you want as long as that hate doesn’t cause harm to your fellow Americans.  So with President’s Day upon us, I will leave you with just a few quotations from some of our country’s presidents, because they usually say it better than I ever could.

“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

“America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses.” — Woodrow Wilson

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals.” — George Washington

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.” — James Madison


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