Reflections: Part II

What the Peter Tefft affair cemented in my mind was the indelible truth that “racist” had become the new and predominant racial slur (funnily enough) for “white” Americans, that is to say, Americans of European lineage. A highly ironic development that the term which was originally deployed (at least ostensibly) to denote a position of atavistic group aversion and denigration should now be utilized specifically for that very purpose. I’ve written on this topic fairly extensively. There is little left to be said. For all practical purposes “racist” now connotes the same meaning for whites as “nigger” did, and still occasionally does, for blacks. A slur. Nothing more. But even those who dispense with the word “racist” in it’s entirety realize that there are real attitudinal proclivities which fall under the aforementioned rubric that are neigh wholly negative. We might as well utilize “bigotry” for these attitudinal vectors and should also remark that the primary problem with “bigots” is not that they are “prejudiced,” that is to say, it is not primarily that they pre-judge someone or group of X race.

Pre-judgement (of both individuals and groups) is absolutely essential to social navigation and, in extreme scenarios, to one’s own/one’s groups survival. For instance, consider you are driving along a lonely road and you spy a man waving for you to pull over. Some scraggly hitchhiker. You see he has a axe and a wild-eyed look. Shirt collar and pants are speckled with blood. The stench of screams hangs about him like a cloud of mist. You inquire where from the blood came. He responds: “From the seven others I butchered,” before he leaps at you, ax arcing murderously towards car window. You speed off, dazed with fear. A months later, you are driving down the same road and spy another man waving you over; as you pull up to him you notice that he too is carrying a ax, has a wild look in his eyes and wears cloths speckled with blotches of dried blood.

What to do? It would be most unlikely for anyone, given their previous experience with the aforementioned madman, to open up their doors, saying, “Hop in partner! Where to?” Rather, it would behoove you to drive away without stopping. This would be a prime example of a reasonable pre-judgement – you do not know if the second hitch-hiker is a rabid killer like the first but given that their appearances and modes of comportment are similar enough to warrant caution why would you chance it? If you know poisonous snakes live within the bushes that occasionally shake, it is best to always jump aback when they do and not assume the wind was there mischievously at play.

Now, obviously, it is highly unlikely for two serial killers to appear and be active in a given area and both appear with the same utensil (ax) on the same road only a month apart from each other, but it isn’t impossible. More likely is that the second man was a butcher (which would account for the blood) who was out collecting firewood (which would account for the ax) who was frantic because he was poor and didn’t have money to get his car fixed and was also stranded far from home (which would account for his wild eyes). To pass up such a man because of his similarity to a real killer would be a unfortunate occurrence (since he would continue to be stranded) but it is far from unreasonable.

I observed such behavior on a fairly regular basis when I lived in Pittsburgh near Squirrel Hill. Despite it’s quaint name, Squirrel Hill and the slums which surrounded it were rather dangerous territory, drug gangs roamed the streets peddling narcotics underneath the auspices of the moon and violent crimes were frequently reported (at least whilst I lived there). Demographically speaking, the crimes were almost always committed by Hispanics and blacks and so I would often observe college students making way for a group of young American men of African extraction who were quite obviously putting on airs – wearing heavy chains, low-slung pants, dew rags, grills, outlandish and awkwardly placed tattoos whilst walking with exaggerated swagger, a inexperienced and Hollywood soused young man’s idea of a confident, powerful male moving through the world  – most people, especially the well-to-do students from the local colleges would walk off the sidewalk and cross the street so as to avoid them. Thus the “prejudice” was that the violent crimes in the area appeared to have been committed largely by the black, gang affiliated population – the kind of people who say “I’m from the streets!” with pride – and given that the men who were publicly, subtly avoided well matched the profile, it made sense to take more caution around them than any other segment of the immediate population, (I might here note that the majority of the saggy pant-wearing, be-dew-ragged individuals whom I ever met there were perfectly well adjusted normal individuals who were just as spooked about criminals as anyone else).

The over-sensitivity which western men and women have cultivated towards notions of “prejudice” is thus based upon a fundamental repudiation of reality mapping. Being against prejudice, in totality, is a facade, a game, wherein all the players understand the reality and thus value of pattern recognition, but who pretend they don’t so as not to disrupt the idyllic fantasy their peers have constructed in the heads of their neighbors and whom they, themselves, unwittingly perpetuate; those who can present the most convincing facade are the only winners whereas those who are most astute and honest in their observations of reality are penalized. This is in sharp contrast to what we might call “postjudice” that is post-judgement as opposed to the pre-judgement of “prejudice.”

Consider the hitch hiker scenario once more, only this time let us say that the second man who you spotted as you drove along the road was a familiar face, a neighbor named Bill who you’ve know for years. Let us say that you knew he was a butcher and woodsman and no killer. But let us also say that you still drove on anyways because the spectre of the actual killer loomed so large in your mind. In this passion-subsuming-reason scenario there is no pre-judgement since you already know Bill. There is only a misfiring of your instinctual, primal, lizard-brained urge to move, to jump, to flee.

One thought on “Reflections: Part II

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s