What if I told you that all Mexicans were rapists? Would you believe me? Of course not. That’s absurd.
What if I told you that all southern farmers were white supremacists? Would you believe that? Again, of course not. Equally as ludicrous.
Alright, alright, I’ve been giving you no-brainers, so let’s try one a little less obvious: what about a guy wearing a baseball hat, tortoiseshell glasses, a black hoodie, dark wash jeans and a pair of Chelsea boots? What would you say about him? Racist. Gay. Bigot. Democrat. Republican.
How could you possibly know, you might ask? That’s a good question; because, you can’t possibly know.
Allow me to explain. I was sitting in Powers Hall last week reading an assignment for class when I overheard the gentleman across from me engaging in a discussion. He was talking with a friend about the importance of voter participation in the upcoming election, and by some twist of fate, his attention turned toward me. He examined what I was wearing, my posture, my demeanor and within a second—he made a judgment call. He leaned over to his friend and said, “That guy next to you must be a Trump supporter.”
Can you guess what I was wearing? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t a Make America Great Again hat. In fact, it was a baseball hat, tortoiseshell glasses, blue jeans, a black hoodie and Chelsea boots.
You can see where this is headed.
I have no qualms with the gentleman I mentioned before, but he does emphasize a looming threat; one that may fundamentally undermine discourse and dissent, principles upon which America was built. My point has nothing to do with personal outrage; however, it does wonderfully illustrate the dangers of prejudice. It has snuck onto our campus under the guise of political polarization.
We find ourselves at a crucial crossroads—one that threatens to chip away at the foundation of higher education; namely, the unhindered pursuit of knowledge in its various forms. Now, more than ever, we must combat our biases and weigh the value of action over implicit judgment.
Take it upon yourself to be a man or woman of resolute integrity, one that is capable of tempering their most immediate impulses in order to truly make sense of the people and ideas they come into contact with on a daily basis. It’s tough, I know, but we must find it within ourselves when faced with the unknown; the stranger who doesn’t look like us; the idea that makes us uncomfortable; the obstacle that shakes us to our core.
It’s much easier to make quick judgments—they don’t require effort—but as the American screenwriter and novelist, Ben Hecht, once said, “Prejudice is a raft onto which the shipwrecked mind clambers and paddles to safety.” We love it when things are easy; let’s choose to make them a little harder—we’ll all be better for it.