Levels of prejudice

The British police certainly don't have a reputation for violence. Living in Southern Texas as I do, where the neighboring state of Tamaulipas finds a large percentage of the police force on the payroll of the drug lords, where inquisitive reporters and honest police are killed with near-total impunity, British police have occasionally seemed like boyscouts on a not-particularly-challenging assignment. That's been changing for years, of course; stunningly rapidly in the last few weeks.

Which raises the question, "What the blazes happened last week?" An article in the Independent about the British police's execution-style killing of a Brazilian national has a picture captioned, "Wrong place, wrong time." Deep buried in the article, only an oblique reference to the other thing: wrong color.

It would be an inexcusably selective use of the facts to imagine that the British -- or whites -- or Westerners -- have an exclusive on prejudice; that's a universal. Read this next sentence once with a straight face: One thing that makes this especially shocking and tragic is that the British are an enlightened people, a civilized country ruled by law and decency; they're supposed to be better than that.

That was intended as irony. The punch line: the reason we think it so shocking that "we" would act that way is because we are deeply convinced that we're better than "them" and that those types of problems could never happen in Britain. Another level to our prejudice. We just acted like a third-world country. Because third-world problems have come to our shores. How much do "third-world" government tactics come from having to face this type of problem? How much do the same tactics aggravate the problem? Some people may not be looking at olive-skinned people in the same way they did a few years ago; now some people may not be looking at "bobbies" quite the same way either.

Fairness check: in general, I have been very impressed with the speed and accuracy with which British law enforcement has made progress. But it is right that we stop and evaluate when an innocent life is taken by those whose true aim is to protect innocent life.

How deep do prejudices go? Well, take literature as an index. How many people actually noticed that, say, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fantasy world, the farther south you go, the darker skinned people are, the more evil they are, until at the furthest south and darkest-skinned there is no reasoning with people, only killing them? How many noticed the irony of Peter Jackson's attempted solution in the 3rd rings movie: he needed a prominent light-skinned orc to offset the perception of that prejudice, so he gave the dark-skinned characters a white boss to show he's *not* a racist, if you can follow that. The point: even the best-intentioned of us are generally prejudiced on a level so deep that we hardly even perceive it. One of the surest signs of prejudice is that we think the prejudiced people are "not us, but them" -- never noticing the self-contradiction inherent in that thought.

What am I trying to do with this post? For the love of God and neighbor, to make sure we do not fail to ask ourselves those questions.


Anonymous said…
"One of the surest signs of prejudice is that we think the prejudiced people are "not us, but them" -- never noticing the self-contradiction inherent in that thought."

This never occurred to me until you brought it up. Sometimes I get caught thinking this way without even noticing the clashing of terms. Thanks for pointing this out.
biblemike said…
This is hardly unlike the way we Christians think of those who are not Christian. It is true that there is a distinct difference between us in that Christians are those who have given their allegience to Christ. Unfortunately there is a sameness that is so easy for us to ignore. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Some of us realize that. Some of us see that as everyone's problem but our own
Well that's the problem... sometimes the badge and the blue uniform gives them a distorted version of authority... they are not the law, they just represent it.. and that is what they sometimes forget.

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