Recently I have been in a number of conversations about the nature of bigotry. Who is a bigot? Who is not? What actions make someone a bigot? What actions should be forgiven because those making them are not necessarily bigots and when? These questions are important for a lot of reasons. Especially when we are discussing privilege and minority derailing tactics like tone policing or when we are having comparatively minor conversations about Paula Deen or Jonah Hill.
It’s a very contentious topic as, we are all aware. Whenever someone is calling someone out on their privilege blindness or worse calling someone out on a clearly bigoted statement, the privileged individual we are speaking with immediately becomes offended: “I’m not a bigot!”, “Some of my best friends are [insert oppressed minority]!”, or even “You’re the real bigot for making everything about [oppressed minority issue]!”. Whenever a celebrity makes a bigoted statement and there is backlash, many privileged people rush to discourage dissent with statements like “Everyone lay off! They have learned their lesson!”. Here’s the thing though: No, they have not learned their lesson. None of us have learned our lesson. It is just not a single lesson that can be learned at once. Society in general is bigoted and all of us make up society.
We were all taught to be bigoted in many ways, some conscious and some not. That’s right, you’re a bigot right now in some ways and you may not even know it. Yes, you. Me too. All of us. We’re all bigots. Because bigotry is not an on/off switch that one can just flip when they have ‘learned their lesson’. It is a trait that has been passed down from generation to generation and is as common these days as wearing shoes. Even minority groups have internalized bigotry towards themselves in many cases. All groups are quite capable of being bigoted towards other groups too, even if they themselves are victims of bigotry. Bigotry is a cultural norm. It is that pervasive in society. You unconsciously prefer people who are like you to people who aren’t for numerous reasons. So do I, everyone does.
And I’m sorry, but you may never get done with your lessons. In fact, it may be part of your human nature to be bigoted towards people who are different from you. Studies have been done which suggest that bigotry has at least some natural basis. Reinforced by a culture which actively promotes this aspect of human nature and you can see how difficult a problem this is. Unlearning this kind of deep imprinted way of being takes work and time. It takes a constant proactivity and it takes real work and it may never end. It’s important you realize that.