Considerable social psychological research has demonstrated a link among ignorance, intolerance, and prejudice. Recent events have brought to light many examples of so called “average people” displaying overt signs of racism and prejudice. It seems that, at least in our country, the positive strides we have made in achieving racial equality have suffered a setback; alternatively, perhaps our achievements were not as broad based as we had hoped. Because I am employed outside of the “ivory towers” of academia, I have observed numerous occasions of both ignorance and intolerance in the workplace. Often, these unfortunate displays have been directed at people of color who are in my employ. In addition, I have witnessed many expressions of prejudice by family members and friends. Whether it is a statement such as “We want our darling child to attend private school because public schools hire homosexual teachers who convert children to homosexuality,” or “There is no such thing as systemic racism in law enforcement,” or “Tell that boy not to speak to me again,” I always take exception to the ignorant person’s words. These experiences are sad, but at the same time, they are quite interesting to me as they convey a total absence of awareness on behalf of the ignorant person of the fact they are speaking to a social psychologist, who has studied racism, sexism, prejudice, stereotypes, and related topics for almost 50 years. Why would anyone presume I, of all people, would ever agree with any statement that conveys prejudice and/or hatred of someone merely because of sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.? My mom used to remind me that there is no cure for ignorance and that an ignorant person is too ignorant to know the path toward enlightenment. Let me be clear. I choose tolerance over intolerance. I choose knowledge over ignorance. And, I choose love over hate. Got it?
Melissa asks “Why would anyone presume I, of all people, would ever agree with any statement that conveys prejudice and/or hatred of someone merely because of sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.?” Well, because they are ignorant, they think their level of (in)tolerance for others is “normal” and that others must think the same way. At least if they are the same skin color or otherwise visually similar. To think otherwise would bring their entire world into question. Perhaps it is out of fear of losing, or lost importance/significance in the world. As we white guys become less of the majority, some are clearly disturbed enough to denigrate anyone other than their own kind. It is a fear of things changing. Borrowing, again, a RUSH lyric, “Ignorance and prejudice and fear, walk hand in hand” (Witch Hunt, from Moving Pictures, 1981). Politically, fear has been used extensively in the last several Presidential election cycles (if not to one degree or another, forever). Clearly, fear works, especially on those who are less inclined to think for themselves, or to be fair, to do their own research, to question authorities, to become informed. Other parts of that RUSH song are eerily true in 2021, 40 years after it was released. “Mob moves like demons possessed, Quiet in conscience, calm in their right, Confident their ways are best…Madmen fed on fear and lies…” I am in touch with friends or classmates from a long time ago who resemble these types. I try not to overly engage them on social media, but feel I must sometimes counter what they say to ensure they realize that not everyone thinks the way they do. I am mindful to keep my comments to a level at which I would be comfortable saying to them in person. Yesterday, there was an exchange in which one of these people was commenting in response to Bill Gates’ warning of environmental threats. She said something like “God is in charge and will take care of it” in being dismissive of Gates and his warning – her ignorance showing. In response, I mentioned that God sometimes uses messengers. With a bit more back and forth, she settled down. So, consistent with Melissa’s choices, I feel one of mine is to attempt honest discussions with those who are ignorant or intolerant, by interjecting a bit of enlightenment. It may or may not succeed, but at least I’ve tried.