We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I think we ought to reserve some of our sympathy for the purported beneficiaries of this wretched discrimination, the black firefighters. Their champions -- Kimber and DeStefano, Bazelon and Sotomayor -- are telling them that their way up in life should not be determined by the content of their character or by mastery of their worthy craft, but by the color of their skin. Not by a fair and unbiased test, but by dishonest wire-pulling and threats of political retaliation.
Thanks to Justice Alito, for pulling back the curtain and showing the ugly reality of racial discrimination in America today.
It sticks in my craw to say anything that might seem to support prejudice, but human societies evolve for reasons. Nearly all human societies have a xenophobic thread -- the fear of the "other". I will, with no real science, speculate that it stems from territorial clashes between clans long ago. People you recognized were probably allies; people who were strangers were always threats. "Categorizing people by skin tone, eye shape, etc..." is despicable now but it probably came from some sort of necessity. We see it in other species: wolves know their pack and are hostile to outsiders, for one example.
As usual, Meta, we're in agreement ... You are so right about prejudice. Prejudice is nature's way of telling you that something is wrong in your world. The crucial thing is what you do after you detect a threat. The past few years,while all this political correctness fuss about "not profiling," that police and airport security people are not supposed to do, I've been thinking about this, and I have been waiting for someone to say "just a minute here, are you crazy?"
Telling folks not to be prejudiced, and law enforcement officers not to profile strangers, is like telling them not to breathe. Assessing the stranger in terms of threat is hardwired not only in humans but in most all warm-blooded animals, like the wolves mentioned above. If you want to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, you need to use your cautionary, 'profiling' skills when strangers approach you, and ask yourself questions like 'is he/she young or old, smiling or snarling, armed or unarmed, happy or having a really bad day?' That's common sense, and you don't survive long without it, whether you're a bunny rabbit or a wolf or a little old lady being approached by a gang of thugs.
But somehow, it has become politically incorrect to protect yourself by assessing threats. We should all trust each other, the theme is. I'm not advocating a violent response the minute one suspects a threat, but I am saying that idealism and loving your neighbor can sometimes get you killed.
It does devolve on us, however, to be careful and responsible in how we respond if we do discern a threat to us. Quietly calling the authorities is my particular choice, since I am neither a Ninja or married to one, and I do have a cellphone. If the threat is quite close, screaming is good. And running as fast as one's arthritic little legs can manage is another.
But above all, I don't feel guilty about spotting a menace and responding. That's not prejudice, that's self-preservation.
I've always taken the evil of prejudice to mean being blind to a person's real individual characteristics because I couldn't get past the reviled group to which he belongs. So I would be a bigot if I were a teacher and I routinely pooh-poohed the classroom comments of students of Group X and praised those of Group Y, without regard for what I really thought about the ideas expressed. Or I'd be a bigot if I graded the papers one way when I could tell which students were in Groups X and Y, but another if the papers were submitted anonymously and I had only the actual work to judge from.
Acknowledging that people belong to cultures and that the cultures have aspects you care for as well as ones you don't -- I don't call that bigotry. You may be wrong about your judgments of the culture, but it wasn't wrong to reach any judgments at all.