Friday, June 13, 2014


Before it slips past me, I've been meaning to talk about Nicholas Kristof's fascinating--and op-ed piece in the June 11 edition of the New York Times.  She Gets No Respect starts with reference to a study showing that hurricanes with female names are proven to do more damage than hurricanes with male name; and that the reason for this is that the public prepare better to protect themselves against the latter.  Why?  Because of innate and deeply held assumptions about the nature of men and women: that men are fierce and aggressive, while women are protective and nurturing.

Referring to other studies revealing troubling--because hidden and mostly unacknowledged--gender bias, Kristof suggests this to be the reason for the paucity of women in both government and top executive positions.  He quotes from an interview with Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton University, who assures him that "gender bias is much more automatic, ambiguous and ambivalent than people typically assume."

I don't doubt but that the same is true of prejudice of all kinds, whether rooted in politics, religion, or race.  It would go a long way in explaining what I see to be the tragic aspect of the Obama presidency.  (I say "tragic aspect" because I don't wish to minimize the President's many successes, despite obdurate opposition.)  None of us want to believe we are racists, not even the majority of racists themselves.

But racism is a subtle beast.  "Automatic, ambiguous and ambivalent" seem like good words to describe it.  And it remains hard to explain in any other way the intransigeant, often unreasonable opposition he has faced on every issue since his first day in office.  It has been noted by others with voices louder than my own that, even when an action he proposes is precisely aligned with his opponents' previously embraced position, they will turn around and oppose him--and not merely oppose him, but do it with vicious, public and personal hostility.

These people, of course, deny any racial prejudice behind their actions, and likely believe themselves in all sincerity to be free of such despicable motivation.  But we have much soul-searching to do as a nation.  What was once overtly practiced as public policy has now run underground, in a stream that poisons much of our public discourse, our education and legal systems, and our policy.  If the country, as so many seem to believe, is "headed in the wrong direction," we will never successfully manage to change course until we rid ourselves of this soul-destroying poison.

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