[The Small Picture]
|2000/08/10(Thu) Korea Times
By Michael Breen
The news that Al Gore has chosen a Jewish running mate for this year's U.S. presidential election prompts a question, which is, so what?
What's the big deal about the fact that Senator Joseph Lieberman is Jewish? So what if he is the first Jew to run for vice-president? Does it not smack of bigotry to even point it out?
Well, it does if, like me, you are a non-American expat accustomed to life in an international environment. But within the context of American politics, it is significant.
It took almost 200 years for Americans to vote in a Catholic as president (John Kennedy), and now has taken another 40 years for a candidate to feel confident with a Jewish running-mate. Americans have still not had Mormon presidents, women presidents, black, Hispanic or native American presidents. But there is no reason to doubt that in the future, such people will be considered electable.
Americans, it would seem, are a people with many prejudices. But then, aren't we all? The fact is that people suffer from prejudices and that shifting them is a long process.
It is also a fact that one has little sympathy for other people's prejudices.
When I read this week that the new education minister, Song Ja, was under fire because his ethnically Korean wife is an American citizen, my first reaction was critical of the small-mindedness of commentators who would make an issue of it. After all, she is not in office. But this news of Al Gore's running mate helped me put it in perspective. It is a concern for Koreans, just as the Jewishness of Senator Lieberman is for some Americans, especially, I presume, Arab-Americans.
The line I am pursuing here is an unfashionable one. It is that while the prejudice of others may not be acceptable, it is often natural and needs to be understood. Why? Because it more clearly helps you recognize your own.
Prejudice is a matter of the heart. Specifically, it is a matter of fear. And distinguishing between unreasonable and reasonable fear is not easy when it is your own. A strong Christian, who is convinced that he is special by virtue of being saved by Jesus, may harbor an unreasonable fear the unbaptized masses who are not. On the other hand, this fear may not be so unreasonable, if his neighbors are all Muslims with machetes.
Some students in the US once did a study to test prejudice. It involved male students approaching white strangers on the street to ask for directions. The videotapes showed people backing off when they were approached by blacks but cooperating when approached by whites. The students claimed that this study showed that the white man and woman in the street harbored unreasonable fear of young black men.
But was this fear unreasonable? Are white Americans prejudiced or simply misinformed in thinking that young black men are disproportionately involved in street crime? Are they prejudiced against black people or simply afraid of crime?
I'm not sure because I only observe America from a distance. But there is no doubt that those who cry prejudice in an angry effort to remove it run the risk acting out of prejudice. The din created by those who speak out most loudly against prejudice often drowns out the quiet hum of their own prejudice.
In the modern world, among thinking people, racial prejudice has been intellectually outlawed. Many bloody events - World War Two, in which the biological race theory of the Nazis was discredited, the American civil rights movement, the end of colonialism and so forth _ have contributed to this development.
In recent years many of the words of racial prejudice have been banned. Now only black people themselves can use the ``N'' word without being castigated. A newly appointed British executive of a multinational company in Japan, who walked through the office saying ``Good morning, chaps'' for his first few days was quietly taken aside by colleagues on his second week and advised to change his greeting. Local employees thought he was saying, ``Good morning, Japs.''
The changes are now entering personal relations. When my brother married a Ghanaian woman, no one in our family even commented on her race. What a change from 30 years earlier when my father, a Scotsman, faced raised eyebrows from his Scottish relatives when he married my mother, an English woman.
Sexual preference is another area in which there has been a rapid liberalizing of attitudes. But those who are politically correct in their views on racial and sexual prejudice, can happily behave with bigotry towards religious people. Why? Religious people make acceptable targets because people think they are themselves bigoted.
These thoughts leave me wondering about my own prejudices. In wondering if Seoul city bus drivers have souls, am I being reasonably or unreasonably prejudiced? As a visitor settling in his country, should I cut out his gizzards, like a conquistador, and give his job to a London bus driver? Or should I give him a rear-view mirror and say, ``This is a present from our Queen?'' I don't know.
But I'm sure my grandchildren won't be asking the same question 50 years from now. They'll probably be voting for him.
입력시간 2000/08/10 16:39
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