Friday, February 23 , 2018, 8:50 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 

Harris Sherline: Judging Others By the Content of Their Character

Prejudice remains prevalent, and often it's based on more than differences in skin color

Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy is exemplified by his historic “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C., that contained the frequently quoted line: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

This famous statement became one of the rallying cries of the movement to abolish segregation in America and continues to serve as the theme for people who still suffer the indignities of prejudice.

Although it has been more than 45 years since his “I Have a Dream” speech, we have yet to see a colorblind society in America. Unfortunately, however, it’s more than color that underlies much of the discrimination that continues to bedevil us. Sadly, all too often our differences — physical, social, ethnic, intellectual or cultural — become the basis for making judgments about others. Not the rationale, but the basis.

King also said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” However, it’s often hard to be patient as we continue to watch events play out over a period of many years. Everywhere we turn, in spite of all that has been accomplished, we still see injustice, ranging from excluding people from social groups or organizations to discrimination in employment, education and more.

Evidence of bias is found nearly everywhere in America, including what is called “reverse discrimination.” It is evidenced by the recent case of white and Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who were denied promotions by the city notwithstanding the fact that they had passed the necessary written examinations, only because none of the blacks who took the same exam passed.

Discrimination cuts in every direction and negatively affects everyone in its wake, including those who are guilty of bias against others as well as those who are the object of prejudice.

I don’t profess to be free of bias, and I believe everyone is biased or prejudiced in one way or another — sometimes against people of color, sometimes against whites or Hispanics, sometimes against Native Americans or Asians, or people who speak a different language or come from a different culture or another part of the world and, of course, various religious beliefs.

Not surprisingly, many of those who experience discrimination in this country are equally biased against other groups in their own societies. For example, the Japanese are biased against the Koreans and the Chinese while, in India, Muslims discriminate against Hindus, and Muslims in general discriminate against Christians and Jews. So it goes, on and on, endlessly spreading various forms of prejudice everywhere around the world.

In America, there are also biases against the disabled, ranging from simple paternalism to barriers to education, employment and housing. The obese are another group that experiences significant discrimination in this country, often suffering unreasonable limitations on employment and social opportunities.

And, interestingly, there is often a type of discrimination by people of average intelligence against those with a high IQ.

So, how does or should our society deal with the many forms of discrimination that seem to plague us? Unfortunately, laws are often passed that legislators believe or hope will prevent it. However, I believe such legislation does little or nothing to change attitudes.

Although King observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” it doesn’t mean that legislation such as hate-crime laws is the answer. They may reduce or prevent overt expressions or displays of discrimination, but my sense is that they accomplish little or nothing to change the hearts and minds of those who discriminate. Rather, they only cause them to be careful of what they say to whom and where without actually altering their views.

The result is that prejudice simply goes underground with the risk that, much like a pressure cooker, it continues to heat up until the lid finally blows off in some overt — sometimes violent — act.

King had it right, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But it requires patience, which can sometimes be hard for Americans to accept. We are an impatient lot, always looking for instant answers and results.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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