My theme is prejudice. As I write this, Good Morning America has just had a field day reporting Senator Biden's awkward compliment of Senator Obama.
Did I say reporting? It sounded more to me like celebrating. We have a habit at our house of GMA in the morning, as ear candy while we are eating breakfast and otherwise adjusting to the day; so I did not channel flip to see what the other programs were doing. From experience, my guess is that they were all doing the same, as will the morning papers.
While the mass media of this generation did not invent prejudice, they have taken every opportunity to exploit it. They constantly identify four of the declared Presidential candidates as follows:
Senator Clinton is a WOMAN.
Governor Romney is a MORMON.
Governor Richardson is HISPANIC.
Senator Obama is an AFRICAN-AMERICAN. (You mean he's Libyan, Egyptian, or a South African of Dutch ancestry? No, you idiot, he's BLACK.)
The commentators and reporters will tell us that none of this matters really, because we are Americans without prejudice. Heaven forbid that Americans would ever be prejudiced about gender, religion, ethnic origin, or complexion! Where would we ever get the idea? How shameful it was for Senator Biden to imply that Senator Obama smashes an insidious stereotype by being who and what he is! What stereotype?What in the world are you talking about, Senator Biden?
I suppose it was inevitable for something like this to happen as soon as Biden admitted, on the first day of his campaign, that he was talkative.That set him up as a promising patsy not only for satirists and comics, but also for those who pass as respectable journalists.
Senator Biden acknowledged the presence of stereotypical thinking among us, exactly as the media do whenever they use the labels WOMAN, MORMON, HISPANIC, AFRICAN-AMERICAN, and so on. Their readers, listeners, and watchers may then take these labels to mean whatever they want them to mean. Prejudice is the selective habit of reaching a conclusion before all the relevant facts are in, and irrelevancies are allowed.
The word "relevant" deserves to be taken as seriously in politics and journalism "reasonable doubt" is taken in law. Are gender, religion, ethnic origin, and complexion relevant to the issue under consideration? If they are, the media, and political opponents, must stick their collective necks out and tell us why and how they are. . . Serious issues require serious analysis, not tongue-clicking.
Prejudice is a simple thing because we all know how easy it is not only to jump to conclusions, but also to form the habit of jumping to conclusions--a rough synonym for prejudice.
The consequences of prejudice, however, may be complex and far-reaching indeed. Just look to the coming presidential campaign as an example of how awful these consequences can get.