Here's the kind of logic that leads to this type of thinking:
(1) Jack is mugged by a man covered with tattoos. Since then, he wants nothing to do with anyone wearing body art.
(2) Alice had a teacher with a Polish last name. Her parents thought this teacher was unfair to their daughter. The next year she was assigned to another class with a teacher whose name ended in "ski." The parents had her transferred from this new teacher's class.
(3) The first two examples show a transference of feelings from a person who was "bad" to someone who might not be "bad," merely because of a physical characteristic or type of name. The third example shows a false assumption about an entire group of people, a gender. It really happened.
I used to own a camera shop and, until I was able to hire some part-time employees, I was the only staff in the store. One day a woman walked in with a camera in her hand. I stood at the counter, ready to wait on her. She stood on the other side, ignoring me and looking toward the back of the store. I finally asked her, "May I help you?" She replied that she was hoping "the man" was in. It seems she had a problem with her camera and had assumed that only a man could help her. (By the way, I wound up fixing her camera which required a simple adjustment.)
(4) I'm going to do a Juan Williams now. One day, while driving my car in Baltimore and waiting at a red light, I found myself automatically checking the locks on the door when a black man crossed the street in front of me. Although it was an automatic action, I was horrified at myself. In spite of the diversity of my friends, was it possible that I was prejudiced in ways I hadn't realized? I felt terrible. Not long after that, I found myself doing the same thing automatically again. Then I looked closer and actually breathed a sigh of relief. It was not a black man crossing the street in front of my car. It was a man...white. I reacted automatically with paranoia to a man because I must have felt vulnerable as a lone female! Was I doing the same thing the woman had done to me in my camera shop?
Rally to Restore Sanity
Last weekend at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert presented a short skit showing how our fear causes us to make illogical assumptions. I've embedded the video and have the transcript below it. (The particular section on Islamophobia is near the end of the video.)
Transcript From Video
Colbert: What about Muslims?
Stewart: What? What about them?
Colbert: They attacked us.
Stewart: Stephen they did not. Some people who happen to be of Muslim faith attacked us. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Most of them (throws hands up)..
Colbert: Did not? Is that what you are saying?
Stewart: That is correct.
Colbert: Oh Jon, oh . So you’re saying, you’re saying that there is no reason at all to be afraid of Osama Bin Laden?
Stewart: No. Osama Bin Laden is a specific person...a bad...
Colbert: ...a specific bad Muslim person...
Stewart: Yeah but that’s no..but there are plenty of Muslim people who are not bad and that you would like...
Colbert: Oh really? Who? Who would I like?
Stewart: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!
Colbert: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
Stewart: Yes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That is someone that you would...
[Kareem comes onto stage.]
Colbert: Watch your head! Kareem, my man!
Stewart: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Muslim.
Colbert: Well, that’s...that’s not fair, Jon. That’s not a fair example. Kareem is cool. We’re friends.
Kareem: Well...uh...we’re acquaintances. You know a real friend understands that no matter what religious position one plays, we’re all on the same team.
(Next post will continue with a look at how perceptions of people affect how they are treated.)