Guilty by Association: Prejudice Directed at Communities as a Whole
JFK airport was packed out as it always was, yet amongst this sea of diverse peoples, my attention gravitated to a particularly, tall gentleman, wearing the clothing of someone from Afghani or Pakistani communities. He had a long, black beard and was easily taller than the fellows around him. And though I know what I was doing was wrong: profiling the man based on what I had seen on the news of stereotypical Muslims – and I couldn’t stop myself either.
I feel that one of the biggest problems confronting the world today is community prejudice and our ignorance of it.
To the modern and educated person, prejudice in any form seems like an automatic, universal sin. Even voicing an opinion that is prejudice and not acting on it is evil can be seen as a hate-crime. Only the individual committing act is the one who should be judged. This is even written in our law books, where a criminal is tried for his own actions, not his family’s or neighborhood’s (on paper anyway). We believed that civilized nations shared this commonality for decades. Yet since the turn of the century, we have been repeatedly astounded by individuals and groups attacking random people of a community because of a past transgression, radicalization, or political agenda.
Rightfully we should be horrified by these actions, but there is also reveals a blindspot in our expectations. We have just seen more extreme examples of this in England this month with the recent terror attacks but both radicalized, Muslim extremists, and non-Muslim UK citizens wanting to hit back at a community that have come to see as a threat.
While still wrong, the reality is also that the concept that an individual is responsible for his own actions is relatively new. It is tied to our western concept of individualism. Yes I say western, but not as derogatory context, but where the attitude predominantly exists. Since time began, racism was not considered a social ill until after 1960’s. And the very notion that someone being openly allowed to express a different sexual orientation other than heterosexual or change it, even younger still.
Humans have always defined themselves by the communities they lived in. Some say that this was a survival mechanism as an individual human has no chance of surviving in the wild without the support of others. And that tribe or community cannot survive without having some shared values that hold them together.
What this means is that when one person from the tribe encounters another tribe with different values sets, that person becomes the de facto representative of that tribe. How he or she acts, says, and what she stands for, will be seen by those she encounters as what her people are as well.
This was how humanity existed for most of pre-civilized and civilized history. In the absence of fore knowledge and experience, we take what little information we have and use it to form a basis of further judgment. And upon it, we base all our future interactions with people who look and behave similarly to the base model. It is how we existed before and how we live now. Simply look at the people you choose to associate yourself with and whom you consider family, and those whom you don’t.
"Conflict brings out the worst of the human race in more ways than one and in more than just the direct combatants."
The Scorpion’s Nature
The parts of the world that do not hold the one as separate from the whole are from non-Western countries. Before you say it, yes, there are many people in these countries who share the modern way of looking at humanity. However, the surrounding cultures they live in also still hold to the idea that individual is the community and the community the individual.
What’s more, in moments of high stress and extreme action, we automatically default from the individual style thinking and instinctively look for bits about them that will help protect ourselves ion the future from similar threats/people. I did this in JFK airport.
We can also look to many of the movements of our age. Tea-partiers, conservatives, Black Lives Matter, LGBQT rights supporters, all of them will label a group as evil first before-or if they do-going back to the individual wrong doers. Society, police, the government, the church, Muslims, celebrities…etc, that primal instinct has never left our species no matter how advanced we have gotten or how much our morals have improved.
The challenge is teaching ourselves and other communities outside of our own to stop profiling each other as groups, especially in times of conflict. Conflict brings out the worst of the human race in more ways than one and in more than just the direct combatants.
I have come to believe that we have to overcome and rewrite our primal instincts if we want any hope of a future free of hate and conflict. And I think we are definitely moving towards that, given the shift peoples’ attitudes across the world are starting to undergo. From Iran, to Rawanda, to India, to England, to Germany, more if us are starting to realize that being judge, jury, and executioners for whole communities is harmful to humanity as a whole.
But the movement will take decades, maybe centuries. Older communities who distrust western philosophies are afraid of losing their identities and becoming something else. Those who embrace the new ideas are slow to realize that the revolution requires a change in them as well as others. We evolve kicking and screaming because we grow comfortable in the stagnate. Therefore history and science often force us to change, or runs us over.
But despite centuries’ worth of obstacles, we need simply look to the acts of kindness that people in the midst of tragedies to have hope: strangers opening up their homes to those who now have none. Random travelers standing up to hateful people attacking others who are different, even at the cost of their own lives, and so on.
These are all signs that we are slowly stepping away from our primal survival instincts, and trying to rise to a new level of existing as a race, both communal and individual. The concept that individual does not always represent the community, is finally starting to take hold.