Victor Bloom MD
The signs and symptoms of racial prejudice are so ubiquitous that it is hard to believe that most prejudice is irrational. Prejudices are over-generalizations and are usually taught and imprinted in childhood. It is a form of brain-washing, but for most people, the process is unconscious.
It makes more sense to judge a person by the content of his character, as Martin Luther King put it, rather than the color of his skin. And yet it hardly ever happens. We hardly ever get to know a stranger very well. We have no basis to form an opinion about a person we do not know.
One remarkable story of prejudice appeared on the front page of today's New York Times. It is the success story of a southern African-American, who returned from battle in World War II only to find that he was prevented from joining a local golf club. As a boy he had been a caddie for a white doctor and loved the game of golf. During the war he looked forward, innocently, trustingly, to pursue his love of golf. But golf was a white man's sport and a black face made people feel uncomfortable. Why?
This was a man of honor, courage, determination and dignity, and what he did was build his own golf course. He had some farmland and he dug out rocks and stumps and over the years fashioned a unique golf course, which is now integrated. African-Americans and Caucasians play and socialize side by side. Golf is a civilizing and humbling game; black and white golfers are equally humbled by the challenges of getting that little white ball from point A to point B.
Our prejudice used to be that golf was a rich man's sport. Now the truth is that persons of different classes, races and gender enjoy golf. Another prejudice was about women and golf. It took many years for women to achieve equal rights to play at private clubs. Somehow the prejudice was that women were not physically or emotionally constituted to achieve excellence in golf, that they could not take the game seriously. This constituted an excuse to limit their right to play.
The African-American gentleman who built his own golf course did not want to beg or whine or complain. His entitlement was within himself. He did not want or need the federal government to intercede for him. As a result, there is only admiration for, and no contempt of him. He is an individual more than he is a black man.
And what is a black man? I never saw a black man. I have seen shades of brown from dark to café au lait and almost white, or what we call, "flesh-color". Whose color is flesh-color? What is the color of human skin? All shades. Who can claim to be pure caucasian, lily-white? Can you tell a book by its cover?
How can anybody in his or her right mind think he or she is better or purer than anyone else? Any intelligent, well-read person who knows the history of vast migrations of people from Africa to Asia and Europe, from Siberia to North America and down to South America, must conclude that there were many mixtures of migrating and indiginous peoples. What with wars and intercontinental trade, imperialism and colonialism, rape and intermarriage, it is sure than no one can claim to be pure.
Almost invariably, the negative and 'base' characteristics that bigots try to pin on others is an unconscious projection of primitive tendencies present in them, as they are in all individuals. This mental mechanism of projection used to be a neat trick, perpetrated unconsciously. But our modern understanding of the workings of the mind has made it clear that it is the racist who is less than civilized, whose thinking is warped and whose feelings are disturbed.
The recent spate of church burnings are examples of extreme racial prejudice. These unthinking destructive acts are symptoms of mental illness, which we call 'sociopathy', characterized by anti-social behavior. The perpetrators are without a conscience and are similar to the supporters of genocide in World War II and its aftermath to the present time. History reveals the fact that sometimes a whole nation of people go crazy. Recent examples are East Timor, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda.
Wouldn't it be a step toward a better world for our government to stop making racial and ethnic distinctions? For example it has been proposed that census-takers stop asking people what categories they call themselves. It is no secret that some people simply lie to take advantage of politically-inspired entitlements and affirmative action. A human being is more a human being than a Christian or Jew, Negroid or Caucasian, Asian or Native-American. Our ancestors were all natives. All Americans are descended from immigrants. What is the point of pigeon-holing people? It is better to be united than divided. It is better to cooperate than create conflict and divisiveness.
This century carries the dark and evil history of the Holocaust and genocide. We are now, for better or for worse, in a nuclear age. If we have learned anything from history and the nature of the human being, we will consciously and deliberately put prejudices aside and live up to the highest potential of civilization--- to love thy neighbor, at least to be tolerant.
Why not simply live and let live?