Ugly Truths About Prejudice

A number of commentators have pointed out the enormous focus that civil rights leaders have put on the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a white man, while essentially ignoring the vastly more common situation of black on black murder. On an average day in 2010, there were eighteen blacks murdered in the U.S., and sixteen of those black victims were murdered by other blacks -- and yet those crimes seem to be of no real interest to the mainstream media or the race hustlers like Al Sharpton.

While I agree that some of this is simply political gamesmanship, there is another part of this strange misfocus that actually does make some sense. It is based on the bitterness that many blacks feel about racial prejudice. NBC News ran a program recently in which they interviewed a number of their black employees about the sensation of being treated as potential criminals no matter where they go.  I don’t doubt that they have experienced this, and that it is almost certainly racial prejudice driving this. Most guys have at one time or another have approached a strange woman in an isolated place, and seen the fear. We feel terribly ill-treated because it is apparent what she is thinking: “A man I don’t know is a rapist -- or at least, there is a good chance of it.”

What causes prejudices like these? Prejudices usually have some basis to them -- either personal experiences, or knowledge that we have acquired from friends or from the news. Sometimes, those prejudices are positive.  A friend of mine is a Korean-American. When he was in junior high and high school, everyone wanted to sit next to him in math classes. “Everyone knows” that Asians are good at math; they could learn from him or at least copy from his tests!  (And they were  disappointed to discover that this is just a prejudice -- he was not good at math.)  There are still Americans with positive prejudices of Jews as clever, or blacks as especially talented at music (“natural rhythm”).

Even when those prejudices are based on some actual difference in the average for the group, for any particular member of the group, that positive prejudice is often wrong.  We tend not to be quite so angry when we are assumed to be smarter, or more talented, or more capable because of our membership in a group, but it is still not a good thing.

The darker problem, however, are the negative prejudices: the ones that cause a store security guard to watch a black guy who enters a store; that cause taxi drivers in big cities to be reluctant to pick up blacks after dark (even when the taxi driver is black himself); that used to cause some employers to assume that women weren’t logical enough to be computer programmers.  If you have ever been on the losing side of one of these prejudices, you understand the sense of injustice that is obviously driving much of the rage about the Trayvon Martin killing.