I have two bigots in my life.
One is my father-in-law, who grew up in a time and place where it was perfectly acceptable to hate people with different color skin than his. It was perfectly acceptable to use ugly names to describe those people because, after all, they were inferior and had no worth because of their race. Because of the "old dog, new trick" syndrome, he remains a bigot to this day, only now he has to be more quiet about it because it's not so socially acceptable.
The other bigot in my life is my brother who is ten years my senior. His bigotry is less toward people of color but finds its greatest target in homosexual males. He grew up in a time and place when it was perfectly acceptable to confront a "queer" and leave him bleeding on the ground when the discussion was over. My brother still has the attitude, if not the proclivity for violence, that he possessed in his youth.
It's hard to imagine a time when such vitriolic racial prejudice existed out in the open. My children hear stories of Rosa Parks and Anniston, Alabama and to them it sounds like so much ancient history, on the same level as The Dark Ages or the quest for fire. When I tell them that these events happened in my lifetime they just take that as proof that their father is indeed older than dirt and dismiss the astonishing (to me) fact that it wasn't so very long ago at all.
But my children have experienced society's wrestling with its prejudice against gays and lesbians. It plays out in their daily lives. Even though society is much more accepting today there are still many people in their schools that are card-carrying gay haters and don't care who knows it. Someday my kids will will tell their kids about this period of history and the children will dismiss their parent's stories as the rambling of old people. Such is the circle of life.
And such is the circle of bigotry. The history of human society and culture is one of raising up a new class of people of which to demonize, slander, oppress and abuse until someone says "enough!" Then the prejudices toward that particular group fades away and a new one rises to take its place. An oft mis-attributed quote goes (and I won't add to the confusion here because I don't know who said it first) "Most times when people imagine that they are thinking, they are simply rearranging their prejudices." Whoever said it, a truer statement was never uttered.
So as the bigotry of sexual orientation begins to become more and more socially unacceptable, what is the next group of people society will hate?
I have seen a glimpse of the future this past week. I have awakened to the reality that, while I was sleeping, this new bigotry has taken hold in our society. It is as vitriolic as any previous bigotry in our history. It has become acceptable for people to hate again, as long as your hatred is directed at the right group. Like always, the new bigots like to gather together to feed off each other's disdain and to affirm each other in their self-righteousness. It is once again fashionable to who take glee in the failures of "the others," and it is right and good to be suspicious of any one of their group simply because they are one of them. The others can do no good. They are completely and utterly evil.
What is most disturbing about this new prejudice is that we are pretty much all part of the others, and we are pretty much all part of the haters. This new bigotry is an equal opportunity employer, and we, the bigots, have lined up on one side or the other to hate the others. Whether it is Democrat vs. Republican, Conservative vs. Liberal or Blue State vs. Red State, hatred of the others is once again in vogue.
Not only is it OK to blindly hate the others, it is expected. If you are a Democrat, you must hate Republicans, and vice-versa. If you are conservative you must hate John Kerry. If you are liberal you must hate George Bush, or euphamistically, "the administration." If you are liberal, then Shelley Moore Capito is an ugly, fake, rubber-stamp, daughter of Arch. If you are conservative, she is a pretty, smart and strongly independent woman.
If you are conservative, Mike Callahan is a beady-eyed, bald, Jim Carville wannabe. If you are liberal he is the shining hope to regain the Democratic seat in congress.
If you are conservative, then you want to protect us from the godless left wingers who want to take away our bibles and guns. If you are liberal you want to protect us from the fanatical religious nuts and the NRA.
If you are conservative, Don Blankenship is a concerned citizen who is willing to put his money where his mouth is. If you are liberal he is a rich coal baron who is only trying to feather his own nest.
I could go on, but you have your own examples if you care to think of them.
I heard two people this week boast loudly and proudly that they voted a straight ticket. Each of them said it as if it were the right thing, the only thing that a rational person could do. Each of them, in so many words, claimed that voting a straight ticket was tantamount to a religious duty. They held deep convictions, each of them, that the other party was evil at worst, and misguided at best.
One of them voted straight Republican and one voted straight Democrat.
I hope I'm right about cycles of bigotry. I hope that people will rearrange their prejudices someday and begin to think independently of partisan politics. I hope it happens in my lifetime. Or at least my kid's lifetime.