Friday, July 20 , 2018, 11:36 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 

Harris Sherline: Legislation Not the Answer to Eliminating Prejudice

Everyone, everywhere is guilty of some degree of discrimination

Demonstrating once again that discrimination continues to be a hot political issue, California legislators passed a bipartisan resolution to “express regret for past discriminatory laws and constitutional provisions.”

The Sacramento Bee noted that this isn’t mere symbolism, that the debate itself has been valuable: “The reality is that California and the nation are embroiled in heated discussions about immigration — but they can learn from Chinese immigrant experience. We need to understand it, confront it and not fall into the same traps that ensnared earlier generations of Californians.”

For a century, California went out of its way to enshrine anti-Chinese sentiment in law. Even The Sacramento Bee promoted that disgraceful agenda.

So why not just let history go and move on?

Americans seem to have a penchant for self-flagellation over matters involving race, continually pointing out that various groups have suffered discrimination, each in their turn — blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Catholics, Christians, Asians, Poles, Czechs, gays, the disabled — and passing legislation that’s intended to level the playing field for everyone.

Unfortunately, that will never happen, because legislation is not the answer to eliminating prejudice. Passing laws against discrimination may provide some relief for some individuals or groups, but it doesn’t change hearts and minds, and that’s where the problem exists — in the hearts and minds of the beholders.

In 2009, Congress attempted to legislate prejudice out of existence with the hate-crimes bill. However, I believe that such laws are counterproductive. What they actually accomplish is to drive people underground, creating a sort of pressure cooker situation that ultimately explodes.

History is replete with examples of prejudice, repression and persecution of individuals, groups or entire societies. It’s an ugly story and makes one wonder at the cruelty and inhumanity of mankind. Groups that have experienced persecution by others include, among others, the Armenians, the Spanish Inquisition, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Native Americans, Tibetans, Gypsies, Irish, Poles, Italians, blacks and Mongolians, among others.

No one is exempt. Throughout history, just about every group of any denomination or ethnic background has experienced prejudice and/or persecution.

One of the problems in America is that many individuals and groups have made race the central theme of their politics.

Deneen Borelli of the national black leadership network Project 21 made the following observations about race: “There they go again. Now Jimmy Carter has joined House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, New York Gov. David Paterson, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and others on the left in claiming racism is behind criticism of President Obama’s big-spending policies. … President Obama was not elected only with black votes. Are those who cry ‘racism’ saying the American people suddenly woke up and said, ‘Oh, he’s black so I don’t like him anymore’? That makes no sense. The criticism of Obama’s policies is about the policies — the stimulus, the growth of government, cap-and-trade, the health-care bills, the overspending. … It’s damaging because when everything is racist, then nothing is. Those who cry racism without evidence will cause people to tune out in cases in which there is evidence. … Prejudice also exists within specific ethnic groups and may be based on a wide range of differences that cover the complete spectrum of characteristics: physical, intellectual, regional customs, etc.”

Racism generally seems to be in the eye of the beholder. When people are accused of being racist, they invariably hotly deny it. After all, who really thinks they are racist? But what about the accuser? They are often racist themselves and use the charge against others to intimidate, usually for political purposes or to gain some advantage. Two prime examples who come to mind are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, but there are countless others — in every society.

Entire cultures are often racist: Muslims vs. Hindus in India, Muslims vs. Jews in the Middle East, Sunni vs. Shia Muslims in Iraq and Iran, Hutu vs. Tutsi tribes in Zimbabwe, whites vs. blacks in South Africa, etc. Prejudice and bigotry exist everywhere.

Laws are passed and social pressures are brought to bear — in an effort to change attitudes, or at least control them. But the ugly head of prejudice continues to pop up everywhere throughout the world. No matter how we try, it’s always “there,” lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to take root and sprout.

Prejudice and bigotry are not innate characteristics from birth, but are taught, either directly or by the example of parents, teachers, religious leaders or others. People are not born bigots. They are taught to hate. This is clearly seen in the Wahhabi religious schools around the world, where Muslim children are taught to hate infidels who do not embrace the Islamic faith. An egregious example of this is seen in Palestine, where children as young as 3 and 4 are taught that Jews are pigs and monkeys and to embrace the idea that becoming a suicide bomber is an honorable and lofty goal.

People tend to associate with others with whom they feel comfortable. This is especially true among various ethnic, religious and racial groups. They have common interests, values, beliefs, customs and attitudes, which makes it easy for them to get along. For example, I don’t imagine there is much socializing between Muslims and Hindus in India, Sunni or Shia Muslims in the Middle East, or Jews and Arabs in Israel, which has about 1 million Arab residents. And I doubt that there is much if any socializing between Muslims and Christians in Europe or America.

The bottom line is that everyone is prejudiced — to a greater or lesser degree. People generally don’t acknowledge that they have prejudices, but it’s inescapable — they do. Everyone does, here in America and in every other society around the world.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as 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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