When Pope Francis arrived in the U.S. he was warmly and respectfully greeted by President Barack Obama. Seeing Pope Francis on American soil should remind us that Americans once were afraid to have a Catholic as our President. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, had to repeatedlyhighlight his belief in the separation of church and state.
Verbal expression of resistance to an American President being a Catholic was religious bigotry. The same goes for expressions about an American Muslim. Dr. Ben Carson was an outstanding, groundbreaking, neurosurgeon.He is not outstanding as a political leader. In public, Dr. Carson firmly said no American Muslim should ever be allowed to be President. Anyone running for President should know that the U.S. Constitutionstates that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Ben Carsons statement then, is not a part of our American political structure; it is religious bigotry. Yet Dr. Carson has been surprised by the objections to his statement about Muslim-American citizens. He is surprised because his is a primal bigotry. It is a group-prejudiced belief so firmly and confidently held that the person does not understand how anyone would disagree or be repulsed by that bigotry.
Bigotry can be about any group. Nowadays too many are confused about that fact. Anybody, you see, can be a bigot. Skincolor does not prevent or absolve bigotry.
That is why talking about racism at the individual-psychological level is inaccurate, misleading and confusing. Yes, there has been a long, painful, violent history of racism in America. Yes, there continues to be pockets and remnants of racism in America. But racism is a system of institutional and organizational patterns of law, policy and action that support individual prejudice and bigotry. Through the Civil Rights Movements grass root protests and legal challenges based on our Constitution, we have successfully attacked and dismantled the systems of racism, sexism and gender-ism. If we had not, someone who tried to violate the Supremes Courts rulings on unconstitutional (racial, gender, religious, sexual-orientation) discrimination would not end up in jail like Kim Davis did.
Talking about racism as if it occurs at the individual-psychological level is what has led some to try to absolve black people as a (once) legally-oppressed people, of being able to have racial prejudice that can be expressed in verbal, nonverbal, and other behaviors (bigotry). Yet skin-color does not eliminate the possibility of bigotry coming from members of any group. When it comes to individuals feelings about people from different groups, bigotry can come from anyone; there are no innocent.
Social psychologists, like me, have analyzed inter-group tensions this way since the 1954 publication of Gordon Allports classic book, The Nature of Prejudice; prejudice is not bigotry; bigotry is not racism.Back then, discussions of bigotry focused mostly on racerelations, but now the issues of inter-group tension are multi-dimensional.In todays age of neo-diversity, there are so many American groups that individuals can feel prejudice towards; homosexuals, Muslims, transgendered persons, Christians, women, persons with visible bodily-conditions, Jews, military veterans, persons with mental-health conditions, interracial-couples, and so on.
Neo-diversity gives all us individuals lots of targets for expressions of anti-group feelings (prejudice) that can be expressed in behavior (bigotry). Especially in that neo-diversity context, anyone can be a bigot. Any person who believes that skin-color prevents bigotry has been mis-educated. Ben Carson is just one example of an apparently upstanding person, who happens to be black, and also a religious bigot.