I'm prejudiced and I'm not embarrassed about it.
There: I've said it. Now you say it. Really. I'll wait.
I'm not a bigot, though, and you're probably not either. We all prejudge but it's our ability and willingness to recognize and overcome the tendency to stereotype that keeps us from bigotry. Those stereotypes are everywhere; they enrobe our attitudes, our thoughts, our entire personalities. We float in a sea of stereotypes like a fish in water, so immersed in it that we don't even know what it means to be wet.
I'm not saying that stereotypes are good but I am saying that they're here. Acknowledging them doesn't make us bigots. Too often we conflate the idea of prejudice with the idea of bigotry, resulting in an unwillingness to engage in any type of conversation that even hints at being outside the lines.
I thought of this today after watching and listening to Juan Williams touring in support of his new book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. Williams, a former commentator with National Public Radio (NPR) and now with Fox News, moved onto the Commentator's A-list when he (in)famously mentioned that if he should happen to see a Muslim in religious garb when getting on a plane he might think that,"you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims." I get worried," he admitted. "I get nervous."
The world went crazy. Sides lined up faster than iron filings drawn to the poles of a magnet. The Baltimore Sun said that Williams "didn't get it" and others even further left buried the same opinion in literati language. American University's John Watson, for example, commented on NPR's Tell Me More that "if it [the decision to fire Williams] was purely based on ethics, I see it as a legitimate basis for some sort of punitive or corrective action."
Huh? That's taking a stand, Johnny. Thanks for weighing in.
Williams had his defenders, too. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes described Williams as "a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints" and referred to him as "an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis."
And everyone missed the point: Juan Williams is prejudiced, and he's not a bigot. While everyone quickly ran to politicize the situation, all Williams wanted to do was talk about it. He wanted to have a conversation about our prejudices, not bury it. He wanted to enable discourse, not swallow it. Instead, both sides rushed to judgment instead of just, oh, I don't know, chatting a bit, like adults. But that we can't do anymore. It's not allowed. Someone might take offense.